Saturday, January 12, 2008

U.S. LAWYERS Need to SPEAKS Out in KUWAIT ON LABOR’S RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS—And other Shenanigans in the Gulf

U.S. LAWYERS Need to SPEAK Out IN KUWAIT ON LABOR’S RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS—and other Shenanigans in the Gulf by American firms and contractors

By Kevin Anthony Stoda, (reedited article as of 24 January 2008)

In this week leading up to President George W. Bush’s visit to Kuwait (where he will speak before U.S. soldiers, U.S. laborers and subcontractors, and Kuwaiti officials), U.S. lawyers at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait student silent.

Although Kuwait has fairly great labor laws on the books (as my friend JN in Kuwait tells me), in practice it was quite apparent that many employers are not living up to the legislative and legal intentions of the official codes and laws of Kuwait concerning foreign labor and Kuwaitis.

For example, another resident in Kuwait has noted, a mother is automatically eligible for 7 weeks paid-leave at the birth of a child.

But, with wages for many in the 300 to 400 dollar month range, the extremely wealthy country of Kuwait could do far better. It is such foreign expat labor which the U.S. government, military, and U.S. contractors employee as subcontractors within the perimeters of Kuwait and in neighboring Iraq these days.


Another friend of mine from Southeast Asia, KM, was fined two days pay recently for something, he was not really clearly responsible for. He has basically no way to appeal without spending hours and months in the local ministries trying to get fair hearing, etc.

By the way, he was docked two full-days pay just before Christmas. As an engineer in Kuwait, KM receives a sum of only about 550 dollars each month in pay

That company is owned by a member of the ruling Al-Sabah Family—I doubt that George W. Bush will speak to the Emir of Kuwait and his family about integrity and the Golden-Rule while he is in the country this weekend.


I shared with a group of friends recently how Kuwaiti- and Kuwaiti-based firms get around the rule after employees arrive, “I have a friend from church who came with another group of employees from the Philippines four years ago. In the Philippines the contract had to be written in the Philippine language or in English, so everyone knew what remuneration and benefits they were to receive—including housing.

I continued, “However, after finishing that two years of employment in Kuwait a renewal contract was given to the group of laborers—along with my friend. To their dismay the new contract was all written ONLY in Arabic. Those same Filipinos were repeatedly told the contract was identical to their previous contract. Alas, a few months later they all discovered they had lost their housing benefits—of some 150 dollars per month.”

I would call it fraud.


Two years ago I had received what I perceived to be a contract offer from a British firm here in Kuwait. It included a start date. However, when that start date came-and-went I was not paid from the start date. When I came back from the USA to start that contract I was given a newer, fuller and complete bilingual contract--which had a LATER start date on it.”

Some might call it stupid for me to have cone ahead and signed the new contract given me. (I fought doing so for several days.) But, seriously, if one has been out of work for a few months and has given up other employment only to be flown into a country half way around the world--it is fairly hard for any employee to negotiate or demand fairer treatment after arrival.

Again, I’d call it fraud, i.e. the way employees here find out time and again that their written contracts and written contracts with start-date offers

Although frequently British and American contractors push back start dates here in Kuwait. The Kuwaiti inspired and fully owned firms and franchises pull this charade off more than anyone else.


All-in-all, most foreign laborers in and outside the United States are subject to the whims of laissez faire economics, laissez faire laws, laissez faire law enforcement, and wide-ranging lack of implementation of the golden rule.

This is true especially for illegal aliens in the USA, in Europe and elsewhere.

It is also true for legal U.S. labor working abroad.

Since the Gulf States have seen a great surge in American foreign labor presence—as soldiers, as contractors, as employees of all sorts, as well as businessmen, etc.—George W. Bush should be taking time in 2008 to talk to the Emir and leaders of Kuwait and neighboring land about the need to take Kuwaiti labor treatment and practices into the 21st century—and out of the 19th century, i.e. the period in the USA and in Europe (and elsewhere in the developed world) before labor unions had success.

Based on the million or more Americans (and their families) who have lived and worked in the Gulf states since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, I’d have to say that a zero-tolerance policy for bad implementation of labor justice in the Gulf states should be one of the top four or five policy issues of the United States in this region.

Just look at how food franchises from the USA are flubbing up America’s image in the Gulf!

Example #1: Burger King franchises in Kuwait are still holding onto their employees passports illegally. I know one employee who resigned 4 times in one year and each time was persuaded only to go back to work by the sad slave-like reality that she didn’t have a passport to get on the plane to go back home.

Example #2: Chile’s Restaurant franchises in Kuwait continues to force laborers to work overtime some weeks each month without paying them over-time based according to Kuwait labor law. The company uses a Byzantine calculation of hours per month—not by week. This cheating the labor is particularly sad because these Chile’s franchises in Kuwait is always among the most successful on the whole planet.

Example #3: McDonald’s Restaurant franchises are some of the better handlers of labor in the country of Kuwait. Wages and working hour practices are better there than at other franchises but environmentally, McDonald’s in Kuwait is living in the 1960s.

For example, around the nicest public beach area in the McDonald’s management refuses to allow its many laborers to go outside and pick up the McDonald’s refuse on the beach each day—simply saying it is the city’s job.

In 1980 I worked in a McDonald’s in Oklahoma. Even back then we employees and our management knew it was the duty and obligation of McDonald’s to go around the immediate neighborhood and pick up the refuse regularly—as it was predominantly from McDonald’s customers each morning. The official handbook from McDonald’s requires this of all franchises.

I have talked to laborers at that humongous McDonald’s restaurant on one of the prime piece of real estate (i.e. across from one of the palace’s of the royal family) about the need to clean up the beach. Every one of those employees wanted to do-the-right-thing but it was against the Kuwaiti McDonald’s management’s policy to keep the beach clean all day long.

Come on, McDonald’s! Come on Burger King! Come on Chile’s Restaurants!

You represent American business in the Gulf—one of the quickest growing business markets on the planet. What kind of image are you painting of the American lifestyle and attitudes towards management and laborers?

In the U-2 classic song NEW YEARS’ DAY, Bono sings that “this is the golden age and gold is the reason for the wars we wage.”

In the gulf, the gold is “black gold”, and black gold rules the day and runs roughshod over some.

Menawhile, American firms are providing Kuwaiti moneymakers with the technical- and management- know-how to run these icons of Americana—please get some commitments that local franchises in the Gulf won’t run America’s name (the good name of American peoples and its leadership) into the ground by the lack of real “Black Golden” rules when running businesses here!

“Black Golden” rules in the Gulf officially mean that the rulers of the country are expected to spread the wealth around among citizens and boost overall economic development—not necessarily underwriting more exploitation of foreign labor.


I actually met one of the last actual (legally-recognized) Middle Eastern slaves in Buraimi, Oman—across the border from Al Aine City in the United Arab Emirates—while living in the Emirates in 2000. He was a thin lanky dark-skinned septuagenarian.

This former-slave had had his picture and his tale told in the Khaleej Times the week before.

That is how I recognized him when I later visited him at an old fort in Buraimi, Oman where he hung out every day. By the way, this former officially recognized “child slave” spoke only a rather difficult ancient Arab dialect.

Even though, I couldn’t talk much in comprehensible Arabic to the old man, I did appreciate the unique opportunity to shake the old-man’s hand—i.e. I felt I was touching a piece of history.

As far as I know, Oman was the last Middle Eastern state to ban slavery.

Oman did so in the 1950s.

However, nearly 50 years later this same aged-Gulf citizen was still living in relative poverty across from the booming United Arab Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

In short, things change both slowly and quickly in the Gulf these days.

On January 1, 2008 Oman and six other Gulf states joined the economic union in the region to form the Middle East’s “free market”.

The citizens, who make up a bare majority of the residents in the entire region as a whole—and a minority in 4 of the 6 gulf states—are now allowed to have equal treatment under the economic and residency laws in the states of the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar.

In the economically booming Gulf, with its nearly 15 million foreign laborers plus all the local working citizens amongst its populations, the Free Market of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) has now the highest percentage of underrepresented peoples among all of the laissez faire regional free market economies on the planet.

This means that many peoples live in slave-like conditions as portrayed in the film with George Clooney called Ariana.

In that film, the story of how under-privileged peoples living without citizenship , i.e. in countries like the UAE or Saudi Arabia, can potentially be recruited to do the most ghastly things in the name of religion, revenge, or ideology.

Similarly, Americans who cannot find moneys to pay off housing-loans and other debts in the USA these days in the 21st Century are joining these oppressed folks in the Gulf laboring, i.e. working side-by-side with these down-trodden others on our planet.
In some cases, American military personnel retiring after 20 years of service end up here separated from family in the Middle East in order to simply try and make those house payments back in the good old USA.

Other American guest laborers do bring their wife and family over to the Middle East--after receiving lucrative promises of pay and benefit packages.

I know one such former U.S. military family who struggled for 18 months recently here in Kuwait. Before the former military logistics’ expert with his family arrived in Kuwait, the man had been promised visa help, tuition for his kids in an American school, and numerous other benefits along with more than adequate pay.

Let us call him Master Chief—because that was what he was in the U.S. Air Force for many years.

Master Chief finally quit Kuwait in mid-December 2007 after serving not only his employer but the U.S. military well in Kuwait for 18 strenuous months—during this time he had often been forced to work up to 14-hours a day (without overtime) until he had a heart murmur last spring. After his recovery, he was back working 2 weeks later.

Master Chief had been able to continue to help the U.S. military full-time in Kuwait because his employment was contracted at Kuwait’s military airport. He ran the logistics at this busy military airport—loading and unloading U.S. military planes to- and from overseas each day. (There are 30,000 or more U.S. soldiers on 2 bases here in Kuwait. Much of what is transferred at that airport either serves U.S. military folks in both Iraq and in Kuwait)

With his 20 years of experience in the Air Force, Master Chief had a lot to offer, but soon he learned that many others at his airport—i.e. many with next-to-no background in his field--were being paid as much or much more than he was.

Moreover, both the Kuwaiti and the American management firms contracted to run that military airport seemed to base their remuneration and benefits on whom you knew—i.e. connections—not basing it on how you did your job or how valuable you were to the company.

Unable to support the keeping of his family in Kuwait, Master Chief sent his family home in late July 2007.

Finally, even with the horrendous downturn in the U.S. economy and with no U.S. employment in hand, Master Chief returned to the USA to start all over again in December of that same year.

I wish him the best.

However, in the immediate period, I suggest that all Americans who are concerned with loved ones in Iraq, Kuwait and elsewhere, tell congress that BAD MANAGEMENT IN KUWAIT AND IN THE GULF MUST END—especially where USA tax dollars are concerned.

In short, I suggest you ask the U.S. government to better oversee how American tax dollars are wasted and thrown around throughout Kuwait and the Gulf at the military airport and elsewhere in Kuwait and the Gulf. We also need to demand better treatment of contractors and stop the graft and insider dealings that some military wheeler dealers are carrying out.


Note: Some years ago, I noted that the average large U.S. military tent in Iraq was rented by Halliburton and a Kuwaiti firm to the DOD at a cost of 4000 dollars a month—even though the tent cost only 10,000 on the open market in Kuwait. When I arrived in Kuwait one-year after the Invasion of Iraq in 2004, the DOD was still paying monthly for each of those tents this same exorbitant monthly fee.

The U.S. insiders and shock doctrine legionnaires flew into Kuwait wheeling and dealing in 2002 in anticipation of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Typical of the shenanigans that were pulled on the U.S. defense department by locals and insider Americans was the “Operation Enduring Freedom” patch—which all of the invasion forces received in Iraq in 2003-2004.

Here is the story told me by my FQ (a Kuwaiti).

FQ shares, “Well this strange American came to my brother with this no-bid contract from the D.O.D. to make these ‘Enduring Freedom’ patches. He was a busy sort of American who drove in a flashy car and always had his pet monkey with him.”

Pet monkey? In Kuwait?

FQ continued, “My brother agreed to find local Kuwaiti tailors—i.e. read Pakistani laborers—to create and make the patches by the thousands. My brother put the money down up front and the ‘monkey man’-American was to deliver the patches to the U.S. military.

FQ explained, “Each of these U.S. military patches cost—including labor--about 250 fills or less than a dollar. This is the amount to have been paid initially to my brother per patch. But since American servicemen were to pay about 15 dollars per patch, the ‘monkey man’ was to make a large profit. Part of this profit was to have been kicked back to my brother for the quick production and turn-around.”

What happened next?

“Well,” FQ stated, “The American ‘monkey man’ with all of his various no-bid military contracts in Kuwait absconded (with his monkey on his shoulder) without paying any of the Kuwait businessmen and their employees the money owed to them.”

As far as I know several complaints were lodged against such con-men working hand-in-hand with Kuwaiti military and U.S. military insiders in the cowboy days of 2003-2004. Little has been undertaken on the U.S. side to fully investigate all of the shenanigans.

Americans, please, demand that American money and influence be used more appropriately to serve labor and soldiers in the Middle East.

Demand that transparency in Kuwait for both Kuwaiti- and non-Kuwaiti firms become 2008% better in 2008! This includes all of the wheeler and dealer insiders who know someone at various military bases in the Gulf!

Ask George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice to whisper strong threats to clean shop into the ears GCC leadership in 2008!

Meanwhile, back in the U.S. better protections for the usage of U.S. taxes related to defense spending is essential in 2008 and onwards! Stop letting insiders create so much graft and bad will for America around the globe!

Demand money be paid back that has been misspent and find out who has been absconding with profits from War over the past 5 years.

Demand arrests!

Finally, poorly run military airports—due to bad employment policies—must soon be ended wherever U.S. government contracts are being dilled out on planet Earth.


I originally published a different article at this web address some weeks ago.

Within a week, the full-force of the status quo in Kuwait hit me at one of the places where I was working, i.e. in one of the townships of Kuwait.

I learned last week that suddenly a former employer of mine (from 2 years ago) was actively now spreading false rumors about me at my part-time job and elsewhere.

A similar sort of attack had been made upon me at that same employer after I filed on-line complaints with Chile’s Restaurants in the winter of 2005-2006. (Chile’s makes a lot of money on cheap labor and unpaid overtime. I’ve had to boycott the place although they have great food and ambience Americana.)

Despite this unfair and clearly tertiary interference with my current employer(s), I do not feel I should allow such ill-gotten and evil rumors to stop me from calling for fairer treatment of myself and all other laborers in the Gulf in 2008 and onwards.

--KAS (Alone)



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