Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The overwhelming presence of foreign workers in the Arabian Gulf has become a national security issue

Region | Bahrain

Published: 24/11/2005, 09:51 (UAE)

Call for prudent labour import policy

By Habib Toumi, Bureau Chief

Manama: The overwhelming presence of foreign workers in the Arabian
Gulf has become a national security issue amid international calls to equal
rights in their host nations, a Gulf Cooperation Council official warned on
Tuesday.

GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Al Attiya.

"The GCC countries need to look at the massive presence of expatriates
basically as a national security issue, and not merely as an economic
matter, particularly in light of global changes and international
conventions," GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Al Attiya said.

"International accords are pressing for the settlement of expatriates
and imposing giving them salaries equal to nationals and greater rights in
the areas of education and health. This new situation calls for a more
rational and more prudent policy by the GCC states in importing labour," Al
Attiya said at the opening of the two-day GCC labour ministers meeting in
Manama.

Zero-tolerance policy

"The GCC countries should resort to expatriate labour only when there
is a deep need for them and there are no local or regional alternatives," Al
Attiya said.

"The countries should implement a zero-tolerance policy towards
violators because it is matter of national security," he said.

"The GCC states need to gradually replace the expatriate force and to
address the causes of their overwhelming presence and to draw up a relevant
strategy that includes developing local human resources and boost
competitiveness in the public and private sectors," Al Attiya said.

Observers say that very high levels of foreign labour can cause a
variety of problems in the GCC countries, with profound political, social
and cultural consequences.

Earlier this month, James Zogby, President of the Washington-based
Arab American Institute, warned that the "guest workers" were a "time bomb
waiting to explode and unleash riots like those that rocked France."

"In this region, as well, in many places, workers are trapped in
horrible conditions, denied justice and their basic humanity. It hurts not
only them, but the image and the moral fibre of the countries which host
them. You must see them, incorporate their rights into your vision and
defend them," Zogby said.

More than 10m foreign workers

a.. Foreign labour makes up 88 per cent of the workforce in the UAE,
83 per cent in Qatar, 81 per cent in Kuwait, 72 per cent in Saudi Arabia, 55
per cent in Bahrain, and 54 per cent in Oman, according to official figures
in the Gulf states.
b.. In all, the number of foreigner workers exceeds 10 million, or
up to 70 per cent of the GCC's labour force, a figure that a Bahraini
economist describes as "frightening" especially given the large population
growth and economic problem.
c.. Observers say that very high levels of foreign labour can cause
a variety of problems in the GCC countries, with profound political, social
and cultural consequences.
d.. Foreign workers hail mainly from Asia (especially the Indian
subcontinent) and from the Arab East. Asians tend to work as domestic help
or as manual workers, while Arabs are employed in administration and
government positions.
e.. Over the past few months, thousands of low-paid Asian workers
staged protests, some violent, in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE for not
receiving salaries on time.




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