What do Qatar’s World Cup workers fear most? to be sent home | Peter Pattisson in Doha

IIn a dusty parking lot near one of Qatar’s largest labor camps, Worker A gets into my car. I’ll call him Worker A, not because I don’t want to reveal his name, but because I don’t know his name.

He only agrees to speak to me after I show him my name on the articles I’ve written and matched it with my passport. I give my phone away to prove I’m not recording anything.

The reason he doesn’t want to speak, he tells me, is that his employer recently employed a “spy” to root out troublesome employees. “Everyone’s afraid to speak up, but we’re dying inside,” he says.

He claims they work 12-hour shifts, six days a week, but are not paid the statutory rate of overtime pay. In total, he says, they earn the equivalent of around £335 a month. “Our manager has one [nice car] but I couldn’t even afford the four tires on my salary. I deserve peanuts,” says worker A.

At their labor camp, he claims, six workers share a room, which is also illegal, and the food is so bad that he says “dogs wouldn’t eat it.”

He tells me about a colleague, a young man who recently collapsed at work and died after saying he was unwell but was ordered to work anyway.

Another source sent me a photo of the deceased worker. When I first met her I asked if I could add her number to my phone so we could keep in touch. She told me to wait because her boss might be watching. A few minutes later she discreetly slipped me a piece of paper with her number on it.

On a recent reporting trip, I met another worker with whom I had been in contact for years. Someone saw us talking and a few days later he was summoned by the police and interrogated.

This is how we report on the run-up to the world’s biggest football tournament: through secret meetings in parking lots and messages that can disappear within five minutes. Every sentence I write is carefully constructed so I don’t reveal anything that could endanger anyone.

What are these workers afraid of? be sent home. Because for all the problems they face, the brutal truth is that they need the work — and they need to pay off the debt they incurred to get the job.

When the pandemic started, a worker told me that everyone was afraid, but not of Covid. “Most of us borrowed money to come here. If we were sent home, how could we repay our debt? We’re afraid of returning empty-handed,” he said.

“When they see you trying to fight for your rights, they will find every little excuse to send you home,” said another.

This fear extends even beyond Qatar’s borders. This week I filmed interviews with Nepalese workers recently sent home from Qatar as companies complete construction projects on the eve of the World Cup. They had been promised two years of work but had been in Qatar for barely six months and were struggling to pay off their debts.

They agreed to talk, but at the end of each interview they said they feared they might not be able to get another job in Qatar if they spoke out.

Every time workers tell me about the problems they faced in Qatar, I ask: will you come back? And the answer is almost always “yes” because they have so few other options. A day of manual labor in Nepal can earn as little as 400 rupees (£2.75), so even Qatar’s meager minimum wage of around £8 a day looks attractive.

Under Qatar labor law, foreign workers have the right to change jobs if their contract is terminated, and there are legal procedures if a worker does not receive their wages or allowances at the end of their contract.

The Qatari government also said a fund to help workers, including through reimbursement of unpaid wages or benefits, had paid out £152.5million as of last month.

Qatar – and all other Gulf countries – could tell a compelling story about how it created opportunity and alleviated poverty for millions. And to some extent has. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Qatar also took advantage of that poverty and the desperation of so many to build the infrastructure for their country and the World Cup.

“I pay the school fees for three boys [back home]. They are my life,” Worker A tells me. “That’s why I’m here. If I go home now, my children will starve.”

And so for many like him the only thing worse than being in Qatar is not being in Qatar.

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