Kuwait labour minister pledges to continue market reforms despite open animosity

April 19, 2010

Kuwait’s social affairs and labour minister said that his ministry would not be intimidated by the onslaughts on the labour market reforms, pledging to continue them.

“The ministry has set up a system to help regularise the presence of thousands of foreigners in Kuwait and seek to eliminate forgeries, trafficking and abuses,” Mohammad Al Afassi said. “However, those who are benefiting from the presence of marginalized labourers and bogus companies are resisting the attempts to reform the market. We will not back down and will go ahead with our zero-tolerance policy towards any form of abuses and trafficking,” the minister told a majlis of a former lawmaker.

Al Afassi has headed a drive to give foreign labourers more rights and eliminate abuses by visa traffickers.

His efforts in a country where the labour market is overwhelmingly dominated by expatriates, mainly Asian unskilled labourers in the construction sector, have been strongly resisted by companies keen on cheap labour and by locals and foreigners who abuse the sponsorship system.

“We will resist those who have launched wars against the reforms because we want to uphold people’s rights. We now have a better private sector labour law and we will clean up the market. At the same time, however, we must think of solution to confront the issue of the massive presence of foreigners since they have deeply impacted the country’s demography,” Al Afassi said.

More than 1.2 million foreigners have jobs in Kuwait and, with their families, make up around 2.2 million of a total population of 3.3 million.

Gulf Cooperation Council labour ministers have repeatedly warned about the social, economic and political threats of the presence of millions of foreigners in the GCC. A suggestion to impose a five-year residence cap on low-skilled expatriates has been rejected after the business communities in each of the six member states rejected it.

Bahrain has embarked on a long-term project to make expatriates less attractive to local employers by asking for higher fees for their employment, allowing foreigners to switch jobs more easily and training Bahrainis to replace them.

The project has however waded into controversy and the business community has been publicly protesting against the scrapping of the sponsorship system and the decision to levy BD10 ($26.4) a month on every foreigner.

Bahrain Chamber for Commerce and Industry (BCCI) on Sunday said that it would send a letter to the prime minister asking for the cancellation of the controversial decision.

Several businessmen have complained in open letters to newspapers and in public forums about moves to make their businesses pay more money to hire and keep employees and labourers, arguing that they were facing tough financial demands.




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About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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