Migrant workers employed as security guards at a huge park that will be the center of Qatar’s World Cup festivities appear to be paid just 35p an hour.
The men are stationed in Al Bidda Park, a pristine green space adjacent to the Fifa Fan Festival. Throughout the tournament, Al Bidda Park will be packed with football fans enjoying the expansive lawns, shaded picnic areas and views over Doha. The guards interviewed are not under contract with Fifa or deployed in the Festival.
But long after fans have retreated to their hotels, the guards will remain. In fact, it looks like fans are likely to see more of Doha in a week than these men will see in years. Guards say they work 12-hour shifts and say they usually only have one day off a month.
“We’re just going between our duty and our accommodation,” one said, holding out his phone. “You can show me anywhere in Qatar and I won’t know where it is.”
The claims come on the eve of the start of the FIFA Men’s World Cup, which is due to kick off on Sunday amid widespread international criticism of the host country’s record on migrant worker rights and LGBTQ+ rights.
In recent weeks, Fifa and Qatari authorities have fought to deflect attention from workers’ and LGBTQ+ rights, with Fifa General Secretary Gianni Infantino saying World Cup teams should “focus about football” and warning them against “lecturing the rest of the world in morality”.
The Guardian’s findings are based on interviews conducted over the past few months with park rangers working for Al Nasr Star Security Services. Rangers and “marshals” employed by other companies also work in the park. There is no suggestion that they are subject to the same claims on the terms.
The Guardian’s analysis of workers’ pay notifications, corroborated by workers’ accounts of their working hours and pay, suggests guards are typically paid 1,330 rials (£310) a month for 348 hours of service, plus a small food allowance. It is understood that this includes 104 hours of overtime, for which they are paid 150 rials, which if correct equals less than 35 pence an hour.
These working hours and overtime pay appear to violate Qatar’s labor laws.
Security guards say they know they are underpaid but feel powerless to act. “It’s illegal, but the government is silent, so what can we do?” claims one.
“We tolerated it because we need the money,” said another, revealing the difficult situation faced by many low-wage workers in Qatar. Others are grateful to have at least one job that pays more than they can earn at home. “I’m happy because I get something… It’s a fight, but I don’t care because I don’t have anything,” said one.
An Amnesty International report published in March this year found that exploitation in the private security sector was rampant in Qatar.
“Security guards are an integral part of making the World Cup run smoothly… No one should have to work in these conditions and anyone who has been abused must seek redress,” said Ella Knight, migrant labor rights researcher at Amnesty.
Knight suggested that the Guardian’s findings are “another clear example of the flaws in the reform process and how the remaining gaps in law enforcement continue to afflict the lives of migrant workers in the country.”
Labor reforms in Qatar should mean Al Bidda park rangers can be transferred to a better paid job, but workers say in practice it is very difficult and believe they still need permission their employer to look for another job. “If they gave [permission] … 90% would have changed jobs,” said one. “Even when we sleep, we dream of changing jobs,” adds a colleague.
Separately, they all claim they were forced to pay illegal recruitment fees – in the range of £1,175 to £1,650 – to recruitment agents in their home countries to secure their jobs, thereby forcing them to work up to five months just to repay the fee. And, while some football fans will appreciate the plushest hotels in the world, some of these men sleep in bunk beds in crowded labor camps on the edge of the desert.
The Guardian visited a camp that houses the guards and found rooms with four bunk beds piled end to end around the edge of a tiny space. There were no lockers, so men shared beds with their belongings or a suitcase. Kitchen utensils were stuffed under the beds. Two large, filthy kitchens and smelly toilet stalls were outside. A guard said that the toilets were so bad at his camp that he preferred to wait and use the ones in the park.
It’s a world few football fans will ever see. Leave a four-lane highway from Doha and continue on a rutted road and the only traffic is an endless stream of buses and minivans ferrying men to and from their place of work. The road leads to dozens of accommodation blocks amid rubbish-covered wastelands. Outside each block, men seated on rocks scroll through their phones while stray dogs play in the dust. A homemade basketball hoop is the only sign of a normal life.
Today, Building and Woodworkers’ International, a union that has worked in partnership with the Qatari authorities to improve workers’ rights in the country, issued a categorical statement saying “there is no sign that a lasting change [for migrant workers] is to come.’
A Qatari government official said: “Over the past decade, extensive steps have been taken to address abusive labor practices and provide accessible channels for workers to file complaints… When violations are recorded, corrective action are taken and the offending companies are penalized.
The official said more than 420,000 workers have changed employers since the introduction of a new law in 2020, which made it easier to change jobs. Last month, 3,712 labor inspections were carried out, he added, and 97% of workers are covered by the wage protection system, “which ensures that all wages are paid in full and on time”.
“Systemic change does not happen in an instant – it takes time to transform a labor market. In other countries it was a decades-long process, and in many countries – including in Europe – this process is still ongoing.
“Hundreds of thousands of workers have benefited from our labor reforms, and our commitment to improving the lives of every expat that has made Qatar a second home will continue long after the World Cup,” the official said.
The group’s general manager Al Nasr Star confirmed that the guards worked 12-hour shifts, but said they had two hours break per day and one day off per week. Security guards who spoke to the Guardian say they are not routinely given breaks during their working day, although one worker said he was given breaks during the summer months.
The company has not responded to repeated requests for a written response to the allegations presented to the Guardian by its employees or provided time sheets or salary information for security guards working at Al Bidda.