Irish firms's employees in Qatar say rights are restricted

Irish and British workers for Sepam Group say they are being prevented from working for other firms

A number of Irish and British construction and engineering professionals, who were working for Sepam but are currently unemployed, said they had job offers in Qatar which they could not take up because Sepam would not supply them with non-objection certificates. Photograph: PA

A number of Irish and British construction and engineering professionals, who were working for Sepam but are currently unemployed, said they had job offers in Qatar which they could not take up because Sepam would not supply them with non-objection certificates. Photograph: PA

 

Irish and British workers employed by an Irish company in Qatar claim that their freedom to leave the Arab country is being restricted because of their employer’s policies. They have said they are also finding that their employer, the Sepam Group, which has its headquarters in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, will not give them certificates that are required by migrant workers under Qatari law if they are to work for other companies in the country.

A number of Irish and British construction and engineering professionals, who were working for Sepam but are currently unemployed, said they had job offers in Qatar which they could not take up because Sepam would not supply them with non-objection certificates (NOCs).

A number of sources, who do not want to be identified, have described to The Irish Times the difficulties Sepam employees say they are encountering. However, there is no suggestion that the company’s practices in Qatar are illegal. The complaints include the operation by the company of a single-exit visa policy, which means employees must go through the company if they want a visa to leave Qatar.

The Sepam Group was founded by its chairman, Gus Kearney, the former chairman of the Kent Group. Mr Kearney has extensive experience of working in the Middle East and the Arabian peninsula. There was no response to a request for an interview with Mr Kearney.

When contacted last week, Tony Creane, the manager of the Sepam office in Doha, the capital of Qatar, said he would like time to reply in writing to the issues raised. He said the issuing of single-exit visas was normal in Qatar. However, in an emailed response two days later, he said the company did not comment on contractual matters in relation to its employees, contractors or suppliers.

“Sepam confirms that the company complies with all labour and other pertinent regulations and operates to industry norms in each market where it has a presence. Any queries in relation to the employment conditions in Qatar should be sent to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs.”

A number of sources have said employees working in Qatar can be issued with multiple-exit visas or single-exit visas. They said it was Sepam’s policy to issue its workers with the single-exit visas and that this meant they must ask the company to authorise their visas when they wanted to leave Qatar. As a consequence, they said, employees were not able to come and go from Qatar in the way that employees of some other companies were.

Correspondence between a former employee and the company seen by this newspaper concerns a man who was employed by Sepam in Qatar earlier this year but returned home when the company no longer had work for him. He now has lucrative job offers from other companies in Qatar but, despite repeated requests, Sepam has not supplied him with the necessary NOC.

In the correspondence, the HR co-ordinator with Sepam in Qatar said the company was very frustrated and disappointed that operational difficulties in the Middle East meant it had to let people go. She said it hoped it would be able to hire again in the coming months and that when it could, it would contact the former employees.

She apologised on behalf of the company and said it was not possible for Sepam to provide an NOC to “any employees”. “It is not company policy,” she said. The HR officer did not respond to an email request for an interview. A similar email from her to another former Sepam employee has also been seen.

Under Qatari law, an employee who has worked in the country needs an NOC if he or she wants to move to work with a new employer. The requirement lasts for two years after the expiration of the visa issued for the first employer. It is understood Sepam organises one-year visas for employees. Sepam had more than 1,000 people working in Qatar last year on a number of construction projects, but that the number has now dropped to about 100.