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April 14, 2016

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Balfour Beatty and Interserve respond to Qatar abuse claims

Balfour Beatty and Interserve will investigate claims of labour abuses in the supply chain on sites operated by Qatari firms they co-own, it has been reported.

Balfour Beatty said BK Gulf WLL went “over and above local regulations and laws” in providing conditions for its workforce, adding that it was reviewing its supply chain following the accusations.

Interserve said it recruits through approved agencies, adding that it will terminate contracts with any members of its supply chain that fail to meet its standards.

This follows allegations that labourers on construction sites operated by BK Gulf, co-owned by Balfour Beatty, and Gulf Contracting Company (GCC), co-owned by Interserve, have been “exploited and mistreated by labour supply companies hired by the firms to furnish construction sites in Doha with cheap manual workers”, the Guardian reports.

The newspaper, which spoke to more than a dozen migrant workers, listed abuse including debt bondage, reduced wages and passport confiscation. Workers said there was a culture of fear and intimidation and that they were threatened with arrest or deportation if they stepped out of line, according to the newspaper.

The Qatari authorities have launched initiatives to improve conditions for migrant workers, including efforts to improve accommodation. This follows reports of workers living in “dire” conditions in camps in the desert. Men working for GCC claim there are up to 13 men sleeping to one room. Qatari labour regulations state that there should be no more than four workers to a room in residential units and workers should be given at least four metres of personal space in communal areas.

One labourer, employed by a supply company but working for GCC, which is 49% owned by Interserve, said he repeatedly asked his employer to let him leave Qatar after his salary was cut by 20%, but he was forced to stay. “I went to the [manager] and said, ‘I will give you the money for my plane ticket. Send me home.’ But he said, ‘Until and unless the contract finishes … you can’t go.’”

Labourers working for BK Gulf at the museum praised safety management on the site, and two workers employed directly by GCC, building an office tower in Lusail City, said they were happy with conditions. However, some labourers claimed their basic salary was only £135 a month and said their wages were cut if they missed work due to illness, and they had to pay their own medical fees above £20.

A Balfour Beatty spokeswoman said: “BK Gulf WLL, in which Balfour Beatty has a 49 per cent share, provides conditions for its workforce which go over and above local regulations and laws.

“Where workload exceeds our directly employed workforce capacity or where specialist skills are required, BK Gulf utilises a selection of labour supply companies.

“BK Gulf requires all of its labour supply companies and subcontractors to meet a selection criteria and code of conduct which includes requirements around operative working conditions.

“The company actively monitors its supply chain to ensure these standards and criteria are being met.

“BK Gulf takes the claims made by the Guardian very seriously and as a result is currently undertaking a review with the labour supply companies it works with to ensure our standards are being met.”

A spokesman for Interserve said: “We are committed to supporting and protecting the health, safety and welfare of our employees in Qatar and will terminate contracts with any subcontractors or suppliers that fail to meet our required standards.

“We only recruit through approved recruitment agencies, which we have assessed to ensure they meet our own high standards, industry best practice and comply fully with the Qatar labour laws.

“The remuneration our employees receive is benchmarked against our peers, and we were one of the first companies to sign up to Qatar’s ‘wage protection system’.

“All of our employees in Qatar have the right to retain their own passports, though we often store passports at the request of employees, and we never restrict an employee’s right to leave the country.”

Comments are currently disabled for this article due to the ongoing investigations in Qatar.

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