Countries like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait are filled with workers from all over South Asia. While working in "the Gulf" - as the area is commonly known in the Subcontinent - means much more money than they could possibly earn in a lifetime at home, many of these workers struggle with dire circumstances and poor wages. Let's just say that worrying about the welfare of foreign workers often takes a backseat to the interests of the big local and multinational companies. [See SAJAforum posts about coverage by "60 Minutes" | The New York Times.]
But, occasionally, workers take a stand, as when a Kuwaiti company stopped paying salaries to its Bangladeshi workers. From the Christian Science Monitor:
What began as an internal dispute involving one company over the non-payment of salaries, flared into a general strike by thousands of Asian cleaning workers calling for a complete overhaul of the industry, in which some of the poorest people in world pay as much as $3,500 to middlemen in Bangladesh to secure jobs in Kuwait. Upon arrival, however, the promised salary often shrinks by more than half, as a host of expenses for visa processing and health insurance are deducted from their salaries.
"In Bangladesh, they say they'll pay 50 Kuwaiti Dinars ($188), but the company only gives KD 20 a month ($75)," says Nazrul (not his real name), standing outside the dilapidated seven-story apartment complex in the south of Kuwait City where he and several thousand other Bangladeshi workers live.
More than 250 Bangladeshi workers have been deported from Kuwait following the violent demonstrations and strike by the South Asian workers demanding for better pay and work conditions, the CSM reports.
According to the BBC, people were manhandled as the Kuwaiti authorities deported them.
"People were screaming, and wailing, in pain but no-one was paying any attention to them," said Mahmud Kamal who was deported with 57 other workers and arrived in Dhaka on Wednesday.
"In the middle of all of the chaos, many were asking for some water... they tied up our hands and then dragged us into the trucks.
"We were kept inside for about half-an-hour and then they brought us out again. And then they left us there - standing - out in the open, tied up in pairs for the whole night.
"We didn't have any shoes - some of us were wearing just lunghis or a T-shirt. We couldn't even bring back anything to wear," he said.
This isn't the first case in the Gulf where South Asian workers have been fooled and exploited. Stories of Nepalis, Sri Lankans and Indians living miserable lives and even being killed flood the local media in the region. In many cases, brokers and manpower agencies involved in securing the jobs in the Gulf for the many lower income people betray them. Some are stranded and many forced to work so they can send some money home to pay their debts and feed their families.
Most South Asian countries do have labor agreements with the Gulf
countries, but not much attention goes to the workers' benefits, or their
working and living conditions. People will go to the Gulf to work, no
matter what. Many come back
with pocket full of money and stories to share, but some just become a
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Earlier on SAJAforum: