Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Employers allowed to loan jobless workers for a year :: Gulf News

When you choose to be a guest worker in the UAE you are confined, by the government's regulations, to contractual terms that limit your job mobility within the UAE. This is especially the case if you are a low-wage worker. The labor market regulations have been so rigid that it is regarded as a sign of increased flexibility that employers are now being allowed greater freedom to rent their workers to other firms.

I mention this news, because James Zogby is drawing some parallels between GCC guest workers, and the conditions faced by those who are rioting in France. Here's the full AFP report (no link yet; I will trim the following to key quotes if and when I find one):

French riots could be mirrored in Middle East: activist

MANAMA, Nov 7 (AFP) - Millions of expatriate workers facing maltreatment and injustice in the Middle East and the Gulf are a "time bomb" that could unleash riots like those rocking France, an Arab-American activist warned Monday.

"France and the rest of Europe are learning now that 'guest workers', in their third generation and still denied justice, are not only a shame that eats at the moral fibre of a society, they are also a time bomb waiting to explode," said James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute.

France has been shaken by eleven nights of urban violence, involving gangs of youths from low-income and often largely North African and sub-Saharan immigrant suburbs expressing discontent at what they say is their alienation from mainstream society.
"In this region, as well, in many places, workers, be they Palestinians or other Arabs or south Asians, are trapped in horrible conditions, denied justice and their basic humanity," Zogby told a meeting of Arab NGOs here.

"It hurts not only them, but the image and the moral fibre of the countries which host them. We must do better. They clean your offices, build your cities and yet remain invisible. You must see them, incorporate their rights into your vision and defend them," he said.

"Societies, even those claiming to be just societies, are often built on the backs of an underclass ... What is happening in Paris now happened in the United States in the 1960s," Zogby said.

More than 10 million foreign workers and three million of their family members live in the energy-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) which groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Over the past few months, thousands of low-paid Asian workers staged protests, some violent, in Kuwait, Qatar and Dubai in UAE, for maltreatment and not receiving salary on time.

Foreigners in GCC states are bound by the "sponsor" system, a regulation that restricts the workers' movements and puts them at the mercy of their employers, cited as the main cause for their plight.

It is adopted by all Gulf states and has been blasted by humanrights bodies as akin to slavery.
A couple of observations:

1. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait taught the GCC countries a lesson about the dangers of employing fellow Arabs as guestworkers. Today they rely much more on guestworkers from the India, Sri Lanka and other Asian countries. Fellow Arabs are more likely to perceive themselves as deserving an expansion of rights.

2. Unlike the situation in France, the guestworkers in the GCC have jobs. The riots in France are due to lack of jobs.

3. Unlike the situation in France, the GCC guestworkers live with the fact that they can be readily deported.

4. In France discrimination is claimed as a reason for rioting. Discrimination is least costly to the discriminator when there is unemployment and an employer has the choice amongst many qualified job applicants. Why is there such high unemployment in France? Because of excessive government regulation of the labor market.

5. Notice that the GCC countries are discriminating against low-wage Arabs by not letting them into their countries to work.

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