KUWAITI KALEIDESCOPE: May Day 2008, Elections, and other Insights
By Kevin Anthony Stoda, notes from Kuwait
As dockworkers in both the USA and in Iraq struck for a few hours on May1 against the ongoing Iraq War, Kuwaiti witnessed May Day demonstrations, too. However, these strikes for workers' rights in Kuwait were carried out by foreign laborers in a land that has been rife in non-payments to thousands of laborers-i.e. laborers who keep the city clean, help run families of wealthy Kuwaitis, and keep their businesses running every day.
The May 2, 2008 FRIDAY TIMES front page story and headline focused on the unfair treatment and lack of pay for hundreds of Bangladeshi cleaners, who have not been paid for many months. Meanwhile, their contractor and the Kuwait government ministries have allowed hundreds of these laborers to find that their expired visas and Civil I.Ds have been expired since 2008. This situation puts them all in jeopardy of arrest. Nonetheless, these laborers chose May Day to once again protest publicly.
These (mostly female) cleaners had protested earlier in the week, too, in front of the Ministry of Education, and that ministry had paid their firm immediately the back-pay through March 2008.
Having still not received that pay from their contractors, these Bangladeshi protesters on May 1 once again peacefully protested and held a sit in at the entrance to the Kuwait Society of Human Rights (KSHR).
Journalist Naware Fattahova notes, "Laborers in Kuwait, however, have limited rights and often face difficulty in ensuring their salaries are paid on time and their residencies kept current."
She adds, "The Bangledeshi workers, for instance, work from 4:30am to 2:00pm, and they receive KD 19 [appx. US$73] per month. A few work from 4:30am up to midnight, and receive KD 30 [appx. US$110] per month, earning about 700 fils [about $2.35] per day."
The concerned Secretary General of the KSHR, Amer Al-Tamimi, stated that his agency helped the protestors write letters to the Ministry of Education and has contacted the Interior Ministry for immediate help in these matters.
Speaking on behalf of the protesting laborers, Muneer Misleh Aldeen, stated, "About 20-25 of us live in one room. We sleep on three or four floors bed [bunk bed], and some even on floor next to each other. Although our contract expired, the company still asks us to work. They are keeping our passports, and our IDs expired. We only demand our financial rights and want to go back to Bangladesh."
Many of these cleaners were lured to Kuwait with promises that they would receive nearly four times their current actual pay by ruthless recruiters and bad company representatives, owned by Kuwaitis.
It is in this context that it has to be pointed out that this current situation, whereby the Kuwait ministries have not renewed visas in a timely fashion and whereby contract rigging is widespread in Kuwait has led many workers in this land to seek employment elsewhere or to flee for their homes.
Let me explain. Therefore, many people who had never had any intention of working in Iraq, sometimes finally agree to do so. Under duress of not receiving the pay or job they were offered prior to coming to Kuwait and after pressure from their Kuwaiti contractors, some of them agree to serve U.S. military personnel as subcontracted laborers in neighboring Iraq. This abuse had gone on for over five years.
Note: In other words, who wouldn't sometimes gamble on working (and surviving) at a Taco Bell situated on a U.S. military facility in Iraq during a war--whereby the pay is 50 to 150 percent better-- i.e. rather than to hang around Kuwait looking for pay months-and-months on end as these poor cleaners have had to do?
KUWAITI MAY 2008 ELECTIONS & THE PRESS
On Wednesday this past week, a dust-filled sky turned to an astounding orange one just hours after another tiny tornado hit Kuwait. There were many residents wondering if at that moment Armageddon had arrived.