Janitorial workers employed by a number of cleaning services companies are required to work 12 hours a day and without a weekly day off even during Ramadan when most of Qatar’s workforce have reduced working hours.
Their wages vary between QR600, the minimum wage legally specified for Nepalis who constitute a substantial number of the cleaning workers, and QR 1,000, including overtime.
Most workers say that they are paid overtime; however it is unclear how this overtime is calculated as the section in Qatar’s Labour Law that specifies maximum working hours for employees is not applicable to cleaning workers specifically.
As they are excluded from that particular regulation, many companies have taken advantage of this loophole, making janitors work almost twice the legal working hours during Ramadan, and two to four hours more during the rest of the year.
Some employers have chosen to follow standard employment practices regarding working hours regardless of whether the law requires it or not.
Landmark Mall, for example, restricts working hours for its janitorial staff to eight hours a day, and six hours a day during Ramadan, which is the legally required practice for most workers.
They offer salaries comparable to other cleaning services companies, and do not see it necessary to justify longer working hours with the pretense of overtime pay.
Workers employed by cleaning services companies are still entitled to a weekly day off , which is often not given. They are also entitled to annual paid leave of no less than three weeks, which is also denied in many cases.
Most cleaning workers live in communal housing, with several reporting to share a 10ft by 10ft room among at least five or six other people.
Standards set by the International Labour Organisation require that workers have at least 3.6sq m (about 36sq ft) per person when sharing a room with more than four people.
Housing conditions for cleaning workers in Qatar provide significantly less space than the recommended standard, with six or more workers living in rooms fit for one to two occupants at the most.
In communal houses visited by Gulf Times, a lack of living space for workers has meant that the single mattress also had to serve as a storage shelf, leaving only half of it to be used for sleeping.
It is not clear why cleaning workers are specifically excluded from the law restricting the maximum working hours, as it seems to allow some exploitative employers to take advantage of their staff.
While many workers may indeed choose to work longer hours to earn overtime wages, there is no need to deny them their weekly one-day rest and their annual paid leave, as well as enough space in their accommodation to live comfortably.
In many cases, local offices and establishments do not directly employ the cleaning workers, who are outsourced to labour supply companies, which are always not known to follow the best practices.
Cleaning workers are mostly recruited by manpower agencies in their home countries, many of which charge exorbitant fees, worth many months salary in some cases, in exchange for employment in Qatar.
Many workers do not complain about their conditions, either to the government departments or their embassy, because they do not know their rights or are afraid of being punished.