Muhammad Sikandar Ali Chaudary
Muhammad Sikandar Ali Chaudary reports on the story of migrant workers in Qatar who have agree to work overtime even though it has been deemed illegal to work for more than nine hours a day.
An irregular pattern of red lines in Sajeet’s eyes and dark spots underneath visibly reflected that he had not slept for hours. After working for eleven laborious hours, this was his last delivery for the day. “I only slept for six hours in last two days,” he said.
Sajeet’s story is typical in the lives of many motorcycle delivery men who meander their way through congested traffic and reckless driving, on the roads of Doha to deliver the food. The food delivery industry in Qatar, a relatively small country with low fuel prices, is booming.
All of the 20 expat workers interviewed for the story, including those who are employed by small scale entrepreneurs such as furniture and car repair shops, agree to work for an average of 75 hours per work, which is substantially higher than prescribed by the law. On average, Sajeet earns QR 6 per hour, without accounting for the tips. “After working for eleven hours for six days, I earn QR 450 per week,” Sajeet said.
Since 1962, the labor law in Qatar has dictated that regular working hours shall not exceed 48 hours. Still, the migrant workers escape the watchdog agencies to work even beyond the 10 hours overtime limit. Most of the low skilled migrant workers hailing from Bangladesh, Pakistan and other developing countries don’t know about the employment rules, which makes it easier for their sponsors to delegate them longer shifts.
Rana, 21, who works as a cook at a restaurant specializing in Desi cuisine, has been working for approximately 11 hours each day.
“When I first came over here, I was told to work for nine hours every day,” Rana said. “I didn’t know that it was illegal until you [the author] told me, but I am happy as long as I make more money.”
Nasir, who works at a car repair shop and hails from Bangladesh rejected the suggestion to cut his working hours. He said he came to Qatar to undergo upward mobility. With a family living in Qatar, one often has to work for a limited timeframe, but Jan’s family live in Qatar, which grants him the freedom to work for as many hours as possible.
“What else would I do with my remaining time?” he asked. “At the shop, I do get sometimes exhausted after working for ten to twelve hours, but I have friends over here.”
Nasir’s manager, Ahsan, said that Nasir agreed to work overtime and he has been given fair overtime pay. To the suggestion that he should not allow his employees, including Nasir, to work more than nine hours, Ahsan said that another employee is being taught to repair cars and Nasir’s current responsibilities will be split between them.
For this story, the International Labor Organization office located on the West Bay in Doha was contacted multiple times, but they didn’t comment on the issue.
Nabeel, mentioned that he has been telling his employer to provide him with motorcycle safety equipment from last year, including gloves and leather jacket, but he still delivers the food without the proper kit.
“Sometimes I have to deliver the food over long distances at locations without street lights, and the low intensity of my motorcycle motor headlight makes it difficult for me to navigate,” he said.
Names have been deliberately changed to protect the identity of the sources.
Muhammad Sikandar Ali Chaudary is a journalism student at Medill, Northwestern University in Qatar. He has previously written for Al Jazeera English.