Complaints made by migrant workers in Qatar against their employers have fallen by 30 per cent since the government banned cash-in-hand salary payments last year that rights groups say puts workers at risk.
Qatar’s ministry of labour said on Wednesday that an electronic payment scheme introduced last November was improving the situation and had made it easier for authorities to penalise employers not paying workers in full and on time.
The Gulf country, which rarely releases figures on labour abuse, is under pressure from the United Nations to address alleged exploitation of its Asian workforce building soccer stadiums and infrastructure ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
Around 85 per cent of Qatar’s 2.1 million workers are now paid by bank transfer, the ministry statement said.
The government recorded 385 violations by companies for not paying workers on time during the past 12 months.
It said the punishments involve fines of up to QAR6,000 ($1,650) for every worker who did not receive a salary and up to one month in jail, but it was unclear whether any bosses had been imprisoned.
Indian, Nepali and Bangladeshi workers in Qatar often complain about late payment of wages, which many send home to support their families.
The government received 2,676 worker complaints in the first half of 2016 compared to 3,845 for the same period in 2015, representing a 30.4 per cent decrease, the statement added.
Amnesty International, which has reported on labour abuses during Qatar’s preparations for the World Cup, said it welcomed the fact the government was increasingly monitoring companies but said cases of prolonged non-payment were still occurring.
“The authorities need to allow them [migrant workers] to claim back unpaid dues from their employers rather than simply dropping their cases … as so many continue to do each year as a result of lengthy and costly labour court processes,” said James Lynch, Amnesty’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director.
“They [the authorities] also need to provide a stronger deterrent against non-payment, significantly increasing the number of prosecutions against offending employers,” he said.
Construction companies in Qatar and in neighbouring Saudi Arabia have been pressured by a drop in global oil and gas prices that has crimped state revenues and delayed projects.
In September, an Indian scaffolder in Doha who had complained about not being paid committed suicide on a building site, focusing attention on migrant workers struggling amid the economic downturn.
Labour Minister Issa al-Nuaimi said in the statement that while challenges remained, the electronic wage system had ensured “greater protections for workers”.