England's World Cup team hotel faces criticism in Qatar worker rights report

·6-min read
England's World Cup team hotel faces criticism in Qatar worker rights report - PAUL GROVER/TELEGRAPH
England's World Cup team hotel faces criticism in Qatar worker rights report - PAUL GROVER/TELEGRAPH

The Qatar hotel where the England team will stay for the World Cup finals this year faces criticism in a report for failing to pay wages of migrant workers in low-paid jobs, and sacking staff with little warning or severance pay when the Covid epidemic began two years ago.

The five-star Souq Al-Wakra hotel in Doha which will host Gareth Southgate and his players is alleged to have failed to pay overtime and, in some cases, discriminated on the grounds of nationality when considering promotions.

The hotel, owned by the Tivoli Hotels and Resorts Group, is one of 17 official Fifa hotels investigated by Equidem, a human rights and labour rights charity, who were able to conduct confidential interviews about working conditions.

Speaking on the basis of anonymity, an Indian worker who worked as a chef at the Souq Al-Wakra said they had lost their job at the start of the Covid pandemic and had not been given any severance pay.

They said: "During the pandemic they [the Al-Wakra hotel] fired many staff. They told us that ‘Within one month we are going to fire you’. They paid our tickets to our home countries and gave workers they fired 400 Qatari Rials [£91] to pay for food until their flight. They did not provide any other payments."

An Indian worker told the investigators that they had been overlooked for a promotion. They said: "Here, they give preference to Arabic speakers when it comes to promotion."

The report discovered that migrant workers across 13 of the 17 Qatar hotels officially approved by Fifa for the World Cup finals later this year, face a variety of serious labour abuses including 12-hour days, no overtime pay, and the prospect of losing their jobs at any moment.

The investigators interviewed 69 migrant workers in Qatar, including 40 across 13 Fifa partner hotels, and discovered that over-work, wage discrimination based on nationality, inadequate protection from Covid and job insecurity were rampant despite so-called reforms.

Souq Al-Wakra workers reported in some cases that overtime was not being paid. One worker told investigators: "Other hotels were paying. They [Al-Wakra] don’t hire enough staff, so we need to extend our time working. Overtime is not paid there [at Al-Wakra]. If we extend our working time, they should pay for it."

The England squad will stay at the hotel during this winter's tournament - PAUL GROVER/TELEGRAPH
The England squad will stay at the hotel during this winter's tournament - PAUL GROVER/TELEGRAPH

Other workers reported that a new biometric system that tracked the time workers began shifts had begun paying an overtime rate of 1.5 per cent. Another Bangladeshi laundry attendant employed as a contractor at the Souq Al-Wakra hotel reported that the third-party agency kept 60 per cent of the fee for his services. He also said that work was irregular.

He told investigators: "They [the agency] pay us per hour. The hotel pays 15 Qatari Rials [£3.40] per hour to the agency, and they pay us nine Qatari Rials [£2] per hour. There is no fixed salary. When it is busy, we might work a 12-hour shift, and when it is not busy, we are off with no work."

A valet working at the Souq Al-Wakra reported paying recruitment fees to get his job – a common problem in the Qatari economy and one that lands many low-paid workers in debt. He said: "I paid 50,000-60,000 Indian rupees [£520-£620] in recruitment fees. I didn’t know the employer should pay the recruitment fees."

Workers also reported problems obtaining "non-objection certificates" from the hotel – part of Qatari employment law which are required from an employer to permit a worker to leave a job. An Indonesian worker at the Souq Waqif hotel in Doha, Tivoli’s second hotel in Doha, told investigators that working overtime without payment was common. The housekeeping worker, who was not named to protect their anonymity, told the interviewer:

"We work six days a week, for nine to 12 hours a day. We work three hours of overtime at least three times a week. They never pay us overtime."

'All team members are treated equally and fairly'

Another worker in the "food and beverage department" at the Souq Waqif said that unpaid overtime was a "daily occurrence" in the morning shift from 5am to 3pm. Speaking anonymously, they said: "I do the opening shift six days a week. I work 10 hours each day. They [hotel] do not pay for these overtime hours. This is a common practice in this hotel and across the industry."

Karl Kutzelnig, general manager of Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels in Doha, told Telegraph Sport in response to the allegations: "The welfare and working practices of all team members at Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels and Souq Al Wakra Qatar Hotel are of the utmost importance.

"The hotels have previously, and are currently, adhering to all laws and guidelines administered by the government of Qatar in relation to the regulation of recruitment processes, severance and employment practices.

"Recruitment processes and salaries are in line with the country’s guidelines and the same opportunities for promotion are available to all. All team members are treated equally and fairly, irrespective of their nationality, ethnicity or religion."

The Qatar hotel industry has expanded rapidly to reach 44,000 rooms by the tournament begins in November, up from around 10,000 in 2010 when the oil-rich state was awarded the World Cup finals by Fifa.

A spokesman for the Government told Telegraph Sport that overall the nation hopes to have 100,000 rooms "available" for fans in total.

'Fifa does not accept any abuse of workers'

The industry employs an estimated 9,000 to 10,000 workers, including migrants from Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Morocco, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand and Uganda. Many of the biggest names in the international hotel trade are represented in Qatar. Trade unions are illegal in Qatar, legislation that Equidem has called upon to be overturned by the Qatari government to show its commitment to worker rights as well as a range of new rights for workers.

While Fifa was responsible for providing England with a list of approved accommodation, Telegraph Sport understands the Football Association has been carrying out its own due diligence on human rights and will be having separate conversations with hotel management and staff.

A source said the FA will "ensure that we understand the steps they have taken to meet their legal obligations and to meet the required standards on workers’ rights". Fifa, which carries out the auditing process on accommodation, said in a statement that it "will assess the report in detail as part of its own audit and inspection programme".

"Fifa is steadfast in its commitment to ensure respect for internationally recognised human rights across all its operations and events in accordance with Fifa human rights policy and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights," a spokesperson added.

"Fifa does not accept any abuse of workers involved in the preparation and delivery of the Fifa World Cup 2022."

Qatari Government officials were contacted for comment.