By Ramesh Mathew/Staff Reporter
Some of the country’s security agencies have come under fire from their employees for allegedly flouting provisions of Qatar’s Labour Law.
In a mail to Gulf Times, a security guard recently levelled a barrage of charges against the Asian-run firm that employed him and hundreds of others. The company management, he claimed, violated the basic tenets of the Qatar Labour Law.
When asked about the issue yesterday, a large number of security guards employed by the company aired similar grievances against the management. Long working hours, low wages, no overtime pay as per the rules, no weekly off and a meagre food allowance: these were some of the grievances brought to the notice of this newspaper by some of the security guards. They also sought the intervention of the Labour Department in the matter.
“If the Labour Department officials carry out surprise visits at the sites where we work, we can explain to them in detail the situation we are facing,” said one worker.
The employee who first raised the issue said he and many others had been working without a weekly off ever since they came to the country for a paltry sum of QR450 a month and a fixed overtime allowance of QR350. He also alleged that their average weekly work schedule came to roughly 84 hours, much above the 48 hours stipulated under the country’s labour law.
The expatriate worker also claimed that if a day’s rest was taken after informing the company, the latter would deduct a day’s wage. If not informed in advance, the firm would cut two days’ wages. “This is not only gross violation of the country’s labour law, but is also denial of the workers’ genuine rights,” said legal expert Nizar Kochery, adding that a worker was entitled to be paid 125% of the basic salary for every additional hour put beyond his regular quota of eight hours.
Kochery said “no company could predetermine the amount to be given to its workers as overtime allowance in its contract. How could an employer unilaterally and arbitrarily fix an overtime allowance without knowing the quantum of excess hours put in by a worker?” argued the expert.
Calling it a “large-scale violation” of the provisions of the labour law, Kochery said workers deployed on public holidays should be given 150% of their daily wages, besides a compensatory off for the services rendered on those days.
The complainant told this newspaper that the employer has kept the workers’ Qatar IDs and health cards in his custody. “The Qatar ID and health card belong to the employees and no company has the right to keep such documents in its custody,” added the legal expert.
The worker further complained that they were given only QR200 as monthly food allowance. “How could one afford to sustain on such a paltry amount when we are away from our accommodation for 14 hours or longer?” he argued, adding that having food outside was expensive. “With this meagre allowance, which works out to QR6.66 a day, it’s almost impossible for us to buy food.”
The 14-hour period includes the time taken for travel to and from the place of work.
Reacting to the worker’s charges, the legal expert said the former was paid only QR1.75 per hour for his duties, way below the minimum salary fixed by his country’s embassy for security personnel.
When inquiries were made at the embassy of the Asian country to which the complainant belonged, it was found that the mission had fixed QR900 as the minimum salary for those involved in security-related jobs. Interestingly, the company’s manager also belonged to the same country.
“Overtime allowance should be paid to the worker based on the existing provisions of Qatar’s Labour Law,” said an embassy official. While no worker has approached the embassy with a complaint against the company until now, some of them are reportedly planning to do so soon.
Kochery said it has been found that in many firms, especially ones providing security and cleaning services, the monthly salaries of workers are deliberately kept low. “It seems to be a ploy on the part of some managers to give only a small sum as end-of-service benefit to employees when they leave the company for good,” he said. “The employer in the complainant’s case has committed a major violation of the country’s labour law by depriving his workers of even their weekly off by unilaterally deducting money from their salaries if they took a day off.”
Kochery said according to decision number 11 of 2005 of the labour law, certain categories of workers - such as firefighters, ambulance drivers and those employed in the safety departments of major companies - were exempted from the provisions of fixed work hours.
“Some of the firms providing security services seem to be exploiting this clause of the decision, which has actually been designed to protect the interests of workers and not to employ them continuously for excess work hours,” said Kochery. For extra duty hours, such workers are entitled to additional wages and compensatory offs, he added.
The situation in some other security agencies was not any better, it was found. The condition of workers in one such firm was a bit better as the employees drew between QR1,500 and QR1,700 a month, including overtime allowance.
However, workers of another security firm - which has more than 3,000 employees - said their condition was similar to the one claimed by the man who wrote to this newspaper.
The workers said the representatives of human rights organisations were vocal about the issues facing construction workers, but were unaware of the “plight of security personnel”.
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