Breaking the Chains of Labor

March 4, 2010 by  


By Sumayyah Meehan – MMNS Middle East Correspondent

DUBAI_WORKERS_(409_x_279) They say it takes a village to raise a child and, at least in the Middle East, that sentiment is taken quite literally. For decades, the wealthy denizens of the oil-drenched Gulf region have relied heavily upon an army of laborers numbering in the millions to help raise their families. Most of the laborers hail from the poorest nations of Southeast Asia, like India and Sri Lanka. They fulfill jobs that no one else wants to or seem beneath the wealthy elite class. Some serve as housemaids, nannies, cooks, gardeners and chauffeurs. Others have managed to crash through the ‘domestic servitude’ ceiling and work both in the private sector and public sectors as janitors, office boys and the like.

For many of the poor laborers, the jobs that they are contracted to do in the Gulf region are the only means of financial support for their families back in their homelands. And the support is often meager as the salary contracts are rarely enforced. The actual salary they receive is, typically, at least 60% lower than the original salary that was contractually agreed upon. Not only are the laborers exploited financially, but they are also often abused, both verbally and physically. Regardless of the drawbacks, the quality of life in the Gulf is a lot better than that in their poor homelands.

However, the result of the dependence upon such a huge force of laborers for so many years has come at a hefty price. There simply are not enough jobs for Gulf nationals. Well-educated and trained Gulf citizens are left redundant in most cases, as there are not enough of the highly coveted government jobs, with perks like obscenely high salaries and extra holidays, to go around. For this reason, many Gulf countries have little choice but to take drastic measures to release its dependence on a largely foreign workforce in order to free up jobs for their own people.

One such country is the State of Kuwait, who this week announced that the Kuwaiti government is initiating plans to replace its estimated 600,000 strong foreign workforce, in various sectors, at a rate of 10% per annum. The government also plans to ban hiring foreign workers, with the exception of those who are highly skilled, and will begin purging existing workers right back to their homelands.

The rationale behind the Kuwaiti government’s move is to cut spending and open new employment opportunities for eager Kuwaiti workers. According to a recently conducted study by the Kuwait Parliament, there are an estimated 60,000 foreign-held jobs today that could be handed over to Kuwaitis tomorrow.  The decision is also a preemptive strike to secure Kuwait’s borders as foreigners out number Kuwaitis 3 to 1. Other Gulf countries have already taken initiatives to break the chains of reliance upon a foreign workforce.

Further governmental plans include specialized training courses for Kuwait citizens so that they can step right into a skilled job previously held by a foreign laborer. And the government will also pay special attention to the Kuwait youth, which makes up a whopping 50% of the Kuwaiti population. Ignoring this segment of the future Kuwaiti workforce would be fatal as the next generation has the potential of meeting all of the employment needs of the country.

The impact of Gulf states sending much of their foreign workforce packing will have far reaching effects, most notably with the foreign laborers themselves. Once back in their homelands, there is little guarantee that they will be able to earn a quality living, as unemployment is usually high and community programming to help the poor is sparse. Being forced ‘out to pasture’ before their time is like a cold hard slap in the face for a foreign workforce that has helped build the Gulf region up to global contender that it is today.

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