By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS
This past week in Kuwait, blood flowed freely on at least one city street as Bangladeshi laborers, tired of being exploited and demoralized by their employers, took to the streets in protest for three full days. The reason for the laborers’ anger is a continuation of past complaints including poor, often dangerous, working conditions and low pay. Add to that the soaring prices of food and other commodities in the region and you’ve got a recipe for a riot. The protest, which started peacefully, quickly turned violent as tempers flared in the scorching desert heat.
A Bangladeshi representative of the company in question made a futile attempt to calm the situation and get the workers back to work. He was attacked by the mob, and murdered. Three more representatives were beaten as well and are recovering in the ICU of a local hospital.
According to the State-run news agency KUNA, both Kuwaiti officials and authorities at the Bangladesh Embassy of Kuwait have already met to determine how to handle the situation. The Kuwait Cabinet, at its weekly meeting, discussed the current situation in depth. MP Ali Al-Omair told reporters, “We have agreed in parliament to identify the problems those workers suffer from and to know the rights they have been denied.” Parliament also discussed a proposal to discontinue the current sponsorship law, which requires all non-Kuwaitis wishing to work in the country to have a Kuwaiti sponsor.
However, while the ‘powers that be’ were busy talking, chaos was erupting on the streets of Kuwait. At least 100 laborers descended on the National Assembly in a show of blatant force as they gathered in what some are calling ‘Determination Square’. Other parts of Kuwait also saw workers congregating in anger, and demanding better treatment. Again, the protests turned violent as car windshields were smashed while some cars were either flipped over or set ablaze. Some houses were also damaged in the cities of Jleeb Shuwaikh and Sabhan. The Ministry of Interior has put all security personnel in the country on high alert. This decision came after a 5,000-strong crowd of angry Bangladeshi laborers once again set to the streets wreaking havoc with every step that they took.
The Bangladeshi laborers are an integral part of Kuwait’s infrastructure. Their jobs may be low and menial but the work they do counts tremendously. Several offices of the Ministries were unable to be opened at all as the keys were with the striking Bangladeshi laborer in charge of opening the office for cleaning each day. Many CEOs of major companies have had no choice but to get their own coffee or chase after a specific file themselves since their Bangladeshi office boy is on strike and there is no one else willing to do the job.
It may seem a bit comical to imagine a CEO having to run his own errands but there are very real fears for the security of Kuwait, which is under a considerable threat as the ‘war of words’ continues between Washington and Iran. Many of the Bangladeshi laborers work in high-security facilities, which are vital to the national security of Kuwait. As of press time, the negotiations continue in an attempt to restore civility and ensure that no more blood is shed.