Labor problem

Muna Al Fuzai
Muna Al Fuzai

Despite the significant role played by expatriate workers in developing Kuwait’s economy, it is saddening that some problems have emerged for these workers on more than one level, making the crisis sometimes intractable.

The Kuwaiti society is facing two issues to resolve – the imbalance in the ratio of citizens to noncitizens and the excessive number of foreign workers, including domestic helpers. The former issue is acceptable, even if it seems strange, as it exists in most Gulf states with increasing numbers of migrants. The second issue of surplus labor is a social and security risk that needs to be addressed.

In general, some estimates suggest that the expatriate population in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has increased to 14 million people, representing more than 80 percent of the workforce in the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait and about 60 percent in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman. In Kuwait, for example, the latest population and employment statistics issued by the General Authority for Civil Information showed that the total population in Kuwait reached about 4.33 million people in June.

The interior ministry’s residency affairs department said the total number of expatriates in Kuwait holding valid residency visas is 2,670,000, including 901,000 Indians, followed by 587,000 Egyptians, 202,000 Bangladeshis, 243,000 Filipinos, 39,000 Iranians and 60,000 Nepalese. The number of Syrians has been stable for six months at 145,000. The statistics also showed that 665,000 people hold article 20 visas for domestic work, 108,000 hold article 17 visas for government jobs and 1,350,000 residents working for the private sector hold article 18 visas.

Legal residents like professionals are not and should not be an issue. They are doing a great favor to us all and the path should be paved to support and facilitate their stay, especially with regards to bringing their families, getting driving licenses, etc. It’s important to determine who created the excessive labor problem and address it fairly and clearly. The large number of domestic workers constitutes a social danger, because families have abandoned their roles as parents and responsible adults and dumped this on the shoulders of strangers.

It is normal that children who grow up with the maid’s habits and values will end up with psychological problems. I always wonder why many Kuwaiti families have a lot of domestic workers – even young, newly-married couples. They show the world how wealthy they are, but this is wrong.

Some reports have consistently criticized Gulf countries, including Kuwait, due to some violations against foreign workers, especially domestic workers. It could be argued at the same time that such violations are due to a lack of regulation of manpower laws, which makes expats vulnerable to exploitation by visa traders. Also, some private companies bring in more workers than they need. I know the ministry of social affairs and labor is trying to track these companies, and this task should not stop for any reason.

A review of manpower policies is essential. Some business owners prefer to hire Asian expatriate workers rather than Arabs or Kuwaitis for material reasons, because Asian workers will accept to work at much lower salaries than Arabs. Regardless if a worker is Asian or Arab, there is a need to reorganize and upgrade their living conditions. The problems of expats require an integrated system of policies and procedures, taking into account many social, economic and security aspects and specific programs to address the problem at its roots.

By Muna Al-Fuzai
[email protected]

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