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Qatari construction workers strike against non-payment of wages, 2005
Qatar is a small independent emirate in the Middle East, north of Saudi Arabia, that has been ruled by the Al-Thani family since the mid-1800s. Nearly 850,000 people are citizens of Qatar, though thousands more are immigrant workers, who make up three-quarters of the workforce. 96% of the population lives in the cities, and the most populated city is the capital city of Doha.
In May of 2004, Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani issued a new law that would allow workers to form unions, and granted workers “the right to go on strike when amicable settlements cannot be reached between employees and employers.” The law also forbade the hiring of teenagers less than 16 years of age, limited the working day to eight hours, and granted women equal working rights with men and a 50-day maternity leave. The law came into effect in June of 2005.
The first official documented strike following the change in the constitution occurred in August of 2005 in Doha. After not receiving their promised pay for anywhere from two to six months, approximately 600 foreign construction workers launched a strike against four private Qatari firms and the Persian Gulf-based Al Khatri Building Contracting Est. The workers, who were from India (nearly half of them), Pakistan, Nepal, Egypt, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines, were also dissatisfied with their living conditions. Workers complained that conditions were such that as many as 12 people were crammed into a single room, and they did not have access to medical facilities.
On August 25, workers from all five firms stopped work and refused to return to work until they had received their pay from the firms and their living conditions improved. In response, the firms threatened the workers with deportation. As well, firm representatives explained that delays in payments from the main contractors resulted in delays in pay to the workers.
However, the workers continued their strike until the individual firms gave in, the last of which accepted the workers’ demands on August 31. After the firm representatives met with the National Human Rights Committee at the Indian Embassy, the firms agreed to pay workers one month’s worth of wages immediately and the rest of the outstanding wages by October. Firms also agreed to pay for residence permits so that workers could find better housing, and consented to pay for medical facilities.