Saturday, May 17, 2008

Kuwait Marks 45th Anniversary as UN Member by Trying to Deport Bangladeshi Workers and by Harassing only Ex-Pats going on Holiday

Kuwait Marks 45th Anniversary as UN Member by Trying to Deport Bangladeshi Workers and by Harassing only Ex-Pats going on Holiday

By Kevin Stoda

Two weeks ago, on May 1, the International Day of Labor, Bangladeshi laborers who had not been paid in many months held a second strike for non-payment of salaries and for the fact that their employer had allowed their Kuwaiti visa to expire without renewal. This means that without wanting to be so, hundreds are currently illegal in Kuwait.

Many local news agencies noted the plight of these laborers. I also published the story of their two strikes in an Op-Ed News article.

Less than two weeks later and coinciding with the 45th Anniversary of Kuwaits entry into the United Nations, several Kuwaiti ministry personnel working in cahoots with the illegally operating Kuwaiti-owned firms (who hired the aforementioned Bangladeshi cleaning personnel and not paid them), have decided to export these same workers—who had only struck after over 8 months of not receiving pay.


CONTRADICTIONS & BAD GOVERNANCE

Kuwait’s official news agency, KUNA, noted that this week is the 45th Anniversary of Kuwait becoming the 111th member of the United Nations. At the end of the government announcement KUNA stated, “Kuwait will always implement the resolutions of the UN and be an affective state working for international peace and security.”

Strangely, Kuwait is breaking several humans rights rules this week in celebration of this 45th Anniversary event. The first case is the one of deporting—without pay—i.e. striking workers who had previously been cleaning Kuwait public schools for past months for free.

It was employees at the state at the Kuwait’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor who had determined to try and deport these under-paid laborers prior to the government’s judicial branch finishing its investigation of the illegally-functioning Kuwaiti owned cleaning firms.

In response to the governments nearly obscene recent actions, human rights activist, Dr. Faris Al-Wiqayan “censured a memorandum sent by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor” upon hearing of the action.

In it, Dr. Al-Wiqayan stated, “This constitutes a direct violation of human rights.”

The ministry’s confusing and somewhat illegal action apparently contravenes many legal procedures by the government.

One other human rights voice issued a similar statement, “The decision to deport the striking workers exposed the fact that officials are in league with officials of those defaulting companies. He also wondered why the Labor Ministry did not intervene in stipulating the salaries of those laborers that apparently does not exceed KD 20, reported Al-Qabas.”

Twenty Kuwait Dinar (KD) is worth approximately 75 dollars. It is against the law in Kuwait for a company to pay less than KD 35 as a minimum wage. That is, some of the cleaning crews were being paid nearly 40 percent under the minimum wage.


POSSIBLE REASONS FOR THE BREACH OF RIGHTS

Why is such bad governance happening in Kuwait and why are people’s human rights being ignored?

One possible explanation is that the ongoing Kuwaiti elections have to do with it. In other words, these illegal and inhuman deportations were to be carried out so quickly by certain ministry personnel--and without real government oversight of the matter—because of a pay-off of some sort among ministry officials and certain candidates running for the nation’s parliament.

This occurs in Kuwait because at election times, all kinds of Kuwaitis receive bribes and gifts from those with the right connections.

That is, quid-pro-quo’s by supporters of certain candidates may find insiders in the ministry to carry out such dastardly deeds in the thick of elections.

Another possibility is that a royal family member may own one of the companies involved in not paying laborers properly. Recently, upon the death of the Father Emir Sheikh Saad Abdullah Al-Sabah, a day of morning was called. At least some of the companies owned by royal family members breached this law and continued production.

One example of these firms is AquaSan, a porcelain manufacturer operating in Mina Abdullah. AquaSan is owned by a man named Sabah. This particular company has breached various labor laws in recent years with great regularity & without the proper government ministries ever carrying out even one investigation.

For example, this company, Aqua San, forces laborers to give up pay upon renewing their contracts and also cuts housing allowances and overtime pay quite regularly .

In short, there is a lot of impunity carried out by companies and with some government acquiescence in the form of behaviors manifested at numerous government ministries in Kuwait. This has led annually to a constant state of breaches of employment agreements and breaches of Kuwaiti health and labor laws—not to mention laws related to supporting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

ATTACKING EX-PATS & LETTING KUWAITIS OFF SCOTT-FREE

In supposedly the Gulf region’s best democracy, Kuwait ministries have recently begun to create new laws targeting only expatriates.

I recently wrote of how two Syrians were deported from Kuwait for driving through red lights—while dozens of Kuwaitis do this and other illegal driving maneuvers with impunity each and every day.

Another new law targeting foreign laborers-only in Kuwait has to do with forced payments at the airport of electricity and water bills. “The legislation states that expatriates who have not cleared their bills will not be permitted to exit Kuwait either through Kuwait International Airport or border checkpoints.”

Paying one’s bills may sound reasonable enough but with a dysfunctional billing and metering system—not to mention an ill-functioning postal network—Kuwait makes it both hard to receive and to pay one’s bills.

In an article on the topic, Ben Garcia of the KUWAIT TIMES, illustrates a typical expatriate’s experience in living in Kuwait:

“Abu Hussein a Jordanian national said he has not paid his electricity and water bills since the last two years. The reason? No one from the ministry comes to his residence to take the meter readings. Hence he does not receive any bills to pay. The likes of Abu Hussein are now being targeted through the issuance of a new legislation. All expatriates will now be barred from leaving the country, on vacation or otherwise, without settling their electricity and water bills first.”

Later, in the same article, Hussein added, “It's unfair. We've been residing in Kuwait for the last 35 years and we used to receive a bill every three months. And if we didn't pay the bill by the following month, they used to automatically disconnect the power supply. But now, we have not been receiving any bills for the last two years, and they are going to punish us for that. Why doesn't the ministry do its job according to a schedule just like us? How do you expect me to pay any bill without knowing the meter reading, without receiving a bill? The new system is completely absurd and unacceptable.”

Most of the country’s 2 million expatriates note that, from what they have witnessed over many years, it is mostly the Kuwaiti landlord and villa owner who doesn’t pay their electric and water bills anyways.

There are also certain Kuwaiti-owned firms who refuse to pay their bills and employees --and who seem to act with impunity in Kuwait, i.e. one of the world’s richest nation states.


NOTES

“Dr. Al-Wiqayan censures Labor memo to Interior,” KUWAIT TIMES, May 14, 2008, p. 4.

“Expatriaes decry new clearance legislation”, KUWAIT TIMES, May 14, 2008, p.7

“Kuwait marks 45th ‘versary of UN Membership”, KUWAIT TIMES, May 14, 2008, p.7

Stoda, Kevin, “Kuwaiti Kalleidescope”, http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_alone_080503_kuwaiti_kaleidescope.htm

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