The government ministries and institutions are suffering due to the lack of cleaning workers and this is not the first time. When the Kuwait Municipality received a call from one of the senior officials from one of the ministries the request to send cleaners who politely turned down, because the cleanliness of the ministries’ buildings is not within the competence of the Municipality but tied to the contracts and mechanisms.
The first chapters of the case began with the decision of the Council of Ministers to reduce the ministries’ budgets for the fiscal 2020/2021 by a minimum of 20%. In order to rationalize the budget, government agencies resorted to postponing projects and tenders and reducing expenses and the rationalization has affected all hygiene contracts in some ministries, reports a local Arabic daily.
The same happened with the budget for fiscal 2021/2022, as the Ministry of Finance directed the state agencies to reduce contracts for non-essential services, which include hygiene contracts, by 50%, as part of austerity measures to confront the budget deficit.
Of course, the effects of the austerity measures did not appear at the time, but they gradually began to become clear following the repercussions of the spread of the Corona virus.
The pandemic exacerbated the shortage of cleaners, especially with the decision issued to stop work visas, and accordingly some companies sent to the ministries requesting a reduction in the number of contracted workers and justified their request with the following reasons:
■ Severe shortage of workers
■ Circumstances imposed by the Corona pandemic
■ Leaving workers and not being able to return to the country
■ Resignations in the ranks of workers in companies
Despite the objectivity of the companies’ justifications — according to an official letter that acknowledged this — some ministries did not hesitate to impose the fines stipulated in the contracts according to the systems in force.
In mid-February, the reality of hygiene contracts collided with the Cabinet’s decision to reduce Corona’s restrictions and the return of life to normal and every ministry started looking for solutions.
Official correspondences and reports showed the following unpleasant surprises:
■ Most of the contracts with cleaning companies have expired or on the verge of expiry
■ No prior directives to renew contracts, which led to the freezing of the situation
■ A serious defect in the implementation of current contracts due to corporate violations and the repercussions of Corona
■ A clear shortage in the number of workers and workers’ strikes increase the burden
■ But what about the new tenders for hygiene?
A question was put on the negotiating table, and the answer was that the procedures are slow and reached a point of suspension of tenders for a period of more than 5 years and have yet to be floated.
Some parties moved to overcome this reality by resorting to the exceptional solution of requesting the extension of the existing hygiene contracts until some were extended 13 times.
But the option to extend the contracts was not easy, as companies were unable to do what they described as a breach by the concerned ministries of the terms of the contract, stressing that “nothing obliges them to renew contracts without guarantees provided by the concerned authority to pay what they see as overdue dues that have not been paid to them.”
Some companies set conditions for accepting the extension of their contracts, including the following:
■ Disbursement of unpaid wages during the Corona crisis
■ Undo the signing of fines without a bond
■ Paying the wages of labor differences resulting from the increase in the minimum wage for the worker
After marathon discussions, consultations and partial decisions to alleviate the problem of hygiene workers in the ministries, the meetings came up with no solutions and the reports are collecting dust in the drawers, and the crisis continues.