GCC expats without pension

Muna Al Fuzai

GCC expats are miles behind when it comes to retirement planning, according to a significant finding. A recent study by Guardian Wealth Management found that 64.21 percent of GCC expats get no pension at all, compared to 14.49 percent in North America, 43.85 percent in Europe and 61.11 percent in Asia.

The large presence of expatriates in Kuwait and the GCC is often mentioned, but few of us are talking about the future of the expatriates we brought from their home countries. Many of them have spent many years in service here, and therefore feel alienated in their home countries. So, why don’t they get financial pension in case of disability, disease, dementia, or old age?!

Some expatriates who work in large companies in higher positions do not fear about not getting adequate financial compensation on retirement, but let us think of many of the professions here in which expatriates work, such as domestic helpers, representatives, drivers and carpenters, as well as construction workers on projects and bridges. If we get rid of all these workers, we will remain without bridges or houses, and we still dare to say that we don’t want foreign labor!

All these jobs are necessary in consumer societies such as ours, because many citizens find such occupations despicable, especially that of domestic workers. I believe we must look at them humanely and consider how to secure them financially. Hamzah Shalchi, regional manager in the Middle East of Guardian Wealth Management, said of the outcomes of the survey: “I believe GCC expats are quite far behind other expat regions such as Asia and Europe because the high salaries and tax-free incomes make it much easier to spend earnings rather than save them. As with most cases, people come to work here and before they know it, it’s been five years and they haven’t saved a penny.”

Shalchi gave a tip to expats who may be in such a condition – to start saving earlier to allow the pension pot to grow naturally or transfer their pensions offshore. I believe this issue has two sides, and we need to take into consideration that not all expats are alike in status and some of them have no home to go to for retirement, such as the Palestinians living in the GCC region for a long time, who should be given citizenship and should be covered by a retirement program.

A regional conference was held in Doha in 2014 titled ‘The GCC Countries: Politics and Economics in Light of the Regional and International Shifts and Changes’ organized by the Doha Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies, that shed light on some issues of foreign workers in the GCC and the future, with about 70 researchers presenting papers related to this topic.

On the issue of foreign workers, Ali Fakhro, a former Bahraini minister, said the situation is alarming, as in 1975, their ratio to the local populations was just 29 percent, but 33 years later, by 2008, the ratio had more than doubled to 70 percent. He added that expatriate workers in the region will become a problem in the future as they would threaten the local cultures and identity, amid mounting international pressure to give them nationality.

Unfortunately, some poor expat workers do not even receive their salaries on a monthly basis, so there is a big problem facing those who do not have the strength to make their voices heard for their urgent rights. The right of expatriates to be covered by a retirement program is very important and must be considered by action.

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