Hello Kuwait

Should the government look to private sector for solutions?

How will nationality limits or duration of time spent by an expatriate in the country regulate the local labor market. Kuwait will continue to be a market for foreign labor as long as Kuwaiti citizens continue to lavishly benefit from one of the world’s most generous welfare states. Foreign expertise and labor are required for the ambitious development plans put forward by the cabinet in an attempt to make Kuwait a regional financial hub. Outdated laws and protectionism will only take Kuwait further backwards regionally and internationally. Draconic laws are not really required to stop foreign marginal labor.

Whatever happened to the scrapping of the sponsorship system which would have perhaps helped in some way. Kuwait has grappled with the foreign labor issue since the 70’s. They have also credited foreigners with the progress and development of the country. There is a substantial demand for foreigners in the country, both skilled and semi-skilled. Market requirements for both are high. It is easy to ask any employer and they will tell you that there will be a staff shortage in various sectors in Kuwait. The government’s desire to regulate the labor market, curb the phenomenon of marginal labor and restore the demographic equilibrium of the country, may not help the economy in any way.

The pandemic demonstrated the enormity of population imbalance in Kuwait, the corruption that led to it, and the indifference of authorities in tackling this issue over the years, despite it being a priority in various five-year development plans. Lopsided nature of the population that was highlighted in the last national plan (2015-2019), also indicated that one of the most important current challenges in the field of human development is “the absence of a clear vision on a population policy.”

Figures from the Public Authority for Civil Information (PACI) show that as of December 2019 there were 1,734,629 employees in the private-sector. Of these, only a paltry 71,013 (4%) were Kuwaitis, the remaining 96 percent (1,663,616 workers) were expatriates.

What is really bothersome is that around 90 percent of working Kuwaitis are employed by the public sector where they constitute nearly 77 percent of the workforce. This is exactly the sector which is not productive. Nobody or rather very few foreigners believe that Kuwaitis will replace them.

How does the government expect to replace laborers in the country? Would Kuwaitis be willing to clean the trash on roads and pavements or water the plants? Is there really a plan in place? If there is an excess of marginal labour in the country then the government should hold people who brought them responsible for this predicament. Are these foreigners taking jobs away from Kuwaitis or are they here because of Kuwaitis?

Kuwait is grappling with an infrastructure crisis of sorts. More than $100 billion is planned as expenditure by the government in the coming years. Huge skilled and semi-skilled labor will be required to fuel this development. The government should not penalize companies for utilizing labor dumped in the market by visa traders.

Labor is always at the receiving end whether from their employers or as now from the government. It might be prudent to look into the reasons for oversupply of marginal labor, its cause and effect. An alternative may also lie in listening to the private sector version for a solution.

By Reaven D’Souza
Managing Editor

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