Thursday, July 31, 2008

Poorly paid, exploited at will, extorted even

Bangladeshi Workers In Kuwait
Poorly paid, exploited at will, extorted even
Porimol Palma
Source: Daily Star
July 31, 2008

Most of over 2 lakh Bangladeshi workers in Kuwait get monthly salary as low as Kuwaiti dinar (KD) 20-25 (equivalent to Tk 5,000-6,500) and cannot recover the amount they invest for the overseas job even in three to four years.

Some employers even extort them by charging for health insurances, annual renewal of residency permits and even for vacation. All these leave the workers under precarious conditions who pay around Tk 2 lakh to find a job in the oil-rich Gulf nation.

These are the reasons why the Bangladeshi workers have recently taken a strong position demanding pay hike and other facilities, said a former official of Bangladesh mission in Kuwait.

About 20 percent of the Bangladeshi expatriates are engineers, architects, doctors, nurses, junior executives, supervisors and petty businessmen, while the rest are low-paid general workers. Most of the workers serve in the cleaning companies or work as agricultural labourers, shepherds and houseboys or housemaids.

The low-paid workers sometimes tend to do extra jobs or part-time businesses in violation of the Kuwaiti laws, while some even get engaged in crime to recover their expended money, the official said on the basis of his experience.

He said, "In some cases it was found that some workers were withdrawn from job without any reason or prior notice. They are kept idle for several months without salary and food. Workers who speak out their grievances are invariably victimised."

He said instances are there that the supervisors, foremen and managers abuse and beat up them with hands and if the matter is reported to the Arab bosses, they even kick them. Vocal workers are victimised and deported with false cases, he noted.

The former embassy official said, "If some of the workers make complaints to the Social Affairs Department of Kuwait, it takes several months to reach a solution. By this time the workers are sacked or their residency permits are cancelled. Eventually, the poor workers fall in more trouble and are forced to return home without a solution."

These statements are fully reflected in the recent incidents where thousands of Bangladeshi workers protested against low salaries and other abuse and the Kuwaiti government has started deporting many of them on charges of instigating demonstrations.

The demonstrators who were employed by cleaning companies and assigned under government projects said they were promised of KD 50 but were paid only KD 18 a month.

Besides, some of them are even forced to work 16 hours a day without overtime payment, while managers of a company beat up some workers for no reasons and deduct KD 5 per day if they fail to turn up due to illness, said a demonstrating worker, reported Arab Times recently.

He alleged the company compels them to buy plane tickets from a certain travel agency, which charges exorbitant fares. "The company also does not allow us to take sick leave. How can we work under such an environment?" the aggrieved worker asked.

Quoting the workers, Shahriar Kader Siddiky, labour counsellor of Bangladesh embassy in Kuwait, told The Daily Star many workers couldn't go on leave over the last eight to 10 years as the company didn't allow them.

Even if a worker is granted leave for returning home, the company charges him KD 30 as security money for getting the passport deposited with it. But they never get back the money when they join work again, Siddiky said quoting the workers.

Asked if the workers have job contracts, he said, "I asked the workers to show us the job contracts they had signed. But they didn't do so."

He however said it is unfortunate that many workers are forced to sign job contracts that are different from those signed before their arrival.

"Unscrupulous recruiting agencies and middlemen have a role in it," he observed.

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