Bangladeshis riot in Kuwait over unpaid wages, poor living conditions

by Kal El on July 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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I do not condone rioting, but if I was made to live in a 4 bedroom apartment with 14 people, paid less than minimum wage, paid once a month, and sometimes not at all, I would probably be pretty pissed off too

Strikes ‘end’ after day of violence

KUWAIT: The government reached an agreement with Asian workers yesterday to end a three-day strike over pay and conditions, state news agency KUNA said. Three hundred protesters were also deported after being paid their dues, Kuwait Times has learned. Earlier, hundreds of mainly Bangladeshi workers went on strike for a third day, seeking better pay and improved working conditions, with some overturning cars and ransacking offices.

KUNA quoted Cabinet Minister Faisal Al-Hajji as saying the workers had agreed to return to work after the government said it would ensure their rights and that anyone participating in riots would be deported. Commerce and Industry Minister Ahmad Baqer said Kuwait would investigate workers’ grievances and ensure their rights were respected.

I’ll believe that enforcement of the Bangladeshi workers’ rights when I see it. As non-Arabs they are seen as less than second class citizens, sadly.

Baqer said the government would ensure workers were paid their regular salaries. “And if any injustice happened to them, then they should go to the relevant authorities, the Ministry Of Social Affairs and Labor courts. I have no doubts that they will get their rights,” he told KUNA after the Cabinet meeting. Hajji added the government would make sure obligations in labor contracts would be honored.

The company wants me to pay money all the time. Money, money, I have to pay money,” one Bangladeshi worker in his 30s said, adding that workers wanted a net salary of KD 50 per month without any deductions for visa fees. A string of strikes has sparked calls by lawmakers to improve conditions for expatriates, mainly Asians and Arabs, who make up two thirds of Kuwait’s 3.2 million population. Annual inflation hit 11.4 percent in April in the world’s seventh largest oil exporter as high housing and food costs spurred price rises.

Again, I’ll believe it when I see it. The typical response one gets when dealing with any of the MOI (Ministry Of the Interior) offices in any muslim country I have lived in, when asking for help in an expedient manner is “insha allah” meaning “god willing”. As in, god willing they might get off their ass and do some work. In my time here I have noticed it is a polite way of telling you to take a hike… FYI 50KD (Kuwaiti Dinar) is about 200 dollars. And the workers usually pull 12 hour shifts 6 or 7 days a week.

Non-violent protests have become common recently as cleaning workers, many of whom are contracted to work in state ministry offices, allege offenses by their employers ranging from withholding salaries for as long as nine months at a time to wages as low as KD 20 per month, to overcrowded, squalid conditions in the accommodation provided by their employers. Protests turned violent at the weekend, with crowds numbering in the thousands taking to the streets of Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh and Sabhan, stoning passing vehicles, breaking shop windows and committing other random acts of mob violence. The violent mobs reportedly reached into the thousands by early Sunday morning.

Kuwaitis have expressed concern over the large numbers of men involved and the random nature of the violence. “It is quite scary to think there are thousands of angry men situated just down the road; this is not to be taken lightly, they killed a man!” said a fearful Abeer Al-Shimmari. “The violence has to be stopped immediately – police must get in there and arrest the culprits.” said Talal Al-Azmi, adding, “We cannot address their labor problems when they conduct themselves in violent ways.

Some Kuwaitis wondered why the workers had not addressed their problems via the state’s legal system. “Why didn’t they go through legal channels to resolve their problems?” asked Khalid Al-Bader, adding, “If they had a legitimate problem with their employer, the courts could have solved it. Others charge the legal system with being inaccessible and time consuming. “It appears these uneducated workers lack an understanding of their legal rights…someone should have stepped in to solve this problem before it spiraled out of control.” said Nour Al-Enezi.

They didn’t go through the MOI because they are not Kuwaiti, and as such would get a reply of ‘insha allah’ when they complain of their living conditions and low wage, and the Minister happens to be a cousin of the employer basically holding them as slaves.

Read the full article in the Kuwait Times.

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