Thursday, May 6, 2010

Oil, Cheap Labour, and People: Opportunity vs Human Rights in the Gulf


As indicated by this photo, this Doha Debate, originally took place on November 17, 2008. However, a number of blogs have recently addressed the issue of human rights and human value in Saudi Arabia whether from the perspective of women's rights, or those of "guest workers", those of  Third Country Nationals (TCN), or even those of longstanding multi-generational Saudi citizens and residents who are not tribal, or non-endogenous. The term slavery has been used extensively to describe what might be more accurately described as unfree labour, exploited labour, disadvantaged labour, or other terms to indicate people who are in conditions with few labour rights, and a high potential for abuse of what few rights they do have. Nonetheless, many volunteer for these seemingly serf-like conditions because in fact conditions in their home countries are worse.

This Doha Debate provides an opportunity to explore these issues more fully, and throughout the GCC, with input from the expert panel debating, the well-informed students participating, and readers' own knowledge and experiences. The role of oil as the substance underpinning the wealth that helps structure these labour relations is a particularly current one in light of the oil well leaking in the Gulf of Mexico, the debates in the US about dependence on Gulf oil, on oil in general, and on domestic offshore drilling, as well as the underlying motivations for the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

For more information on The Doha Debates generally, which follow Oxford Union debating rules, see the website of  The Doha Debates, for more information on The Doha Debates and The Doha Debates Chez Chiara see the introductory post, and the blog Category Doha Debates (DohaDebates) on the sidebar. The following includes excerpts from the panelists' biographies, the debate transcript, and the final result. A summary statement precedes each of the dialogues with a particular audience member whose photo is included. Full information for this debate is here. The full transcript may be read here. The full debate may be viewed here, and the podcast link is available on the main site for this debate.


The Motion
This House believes that Gulf Arabs value profit over people



TIM SEBASTIAN
Ladies and gentlemen, a very good evening to you and welcome to the latest in our series of Doha Debates coming to you from the Gulf State of Qatar and sponsored by the Qatar Foundation. The global financial crisis may be hitting hardest in Europe and America, but here in the Gulf States, profits have been slashed, jobs endangered, and major projects put on hold. In other words, there'll be a visible human cost and plenty of questions about how the Arab states in this region will handle it. After all, some say that while building their shining new countries on the revenues of oil and gas, they cared little about the welfare of their workers. Others claim that with huge investment in education and health, they've given everyone a life-style beyond their wildest dreams. Well, what's the truth and what will the states do now for their people? Our motion tonight is intended to get to the heart of the matter: ‘This House believes that Gulf Arabs value profit over people', and our panellists as ever have strong and divergent views on the subject.

Speaking for the motion


Dr. Najeeb Al-Nauimi was Qatar’s Justice Minister from 1995-97. He was later Lead Counsel to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and has represented detainees at Guantanamo Bay. He now works on human rights cases throughout the Gulf.

Before becoming a minister, Dr. Al-Nauimi was a legal adviser at the office of the Emir of Qatar and represented the state at the International Court of Justice.

In academic life he was Professor of Public International Law at Qatar University and held the ‘HH Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Chair of International Law’ at Birzeit University in the West Bank.

NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
Thank you very much. This House actually supports that the Arab states - it's called Gulf Arabs but it's actually the Gulf States - value profit over citizenship. The profits are actually the aim of the states of the Gulf, and their aim is particularly actually based on how they make more profit rather than looking into citizenship affairs. I base my argument actually on a number of ideas. The first one is poverty. It would be a bit strange to understand that we have poverty in the State of Qatar, we have poverty in the Gulf, and if I would say, you know, how can I select this one with evidence, I would say King Abdullah (of Saudi Arabia) was once in front of you, of the people, said, after he had visited a poverty area, or what we call some suburbs, he said, after he really saw the poverty there, he said: "I will call upon the businessmen, I'll call upon charity, to support these poor people on their standard of living and to have them [inaudible]." He did not say that we as a state, we will support them, he referred them to the private sector. It is very clear that he did not care much about really using the sources of the state, which is about 10 million barrels per day. Another thing was that our radio in Qatar stated once, one of the people who called, he said that: "I am staying with my three families, me and two of my brothers, in one house." It's very strange to have three families staying in three bedrooms with their wives and with their kids, because he could not find, or he was not actually given the land to construct. He was poor. A number of people now, if you go to the Eid charity, will find out that there is an increase in families in need, Qataris and non-Qataris, looking for support to help them out of this poverty. Poverty comes in the definition that we are not talking about Somalia, we're talking about Qatar and the Gulf. If Somalia is dying, we know they don't have money, but for people in the Gulf, to have problems and not to have suitable services, that is a big problem. There are tricky things which the states use in the Gulf. For example, salaries are always based on allowances. You'll see one salary where we will have something like 40 percent allowances. When he retires, he loses 40 percent, 50 percent. Another point actually, there are in the Gulf, in the Emirates, many people who have problems, not to have really a proper standard. In Kuwait, you know, the status of people who cannot have citizenship, there is the inflation, in fact versus the wages and the same of the Gulf citizens which is not really tackled by the state. You have to understand labour actually among the human beings who are serving in the Gulf, labour has been very much been killed in a way where you have a lot of strikes and demonstration. We can elaborate on it later on. Thank you very much.


Dr. Mansoor Al-Jamri co-founded the daily Bahraini Alwasat newspaper and has been its Editor in Chief since 2002.

During a spell in the UK, he was Editor and Executive Director of ‘Islam21 Newsletter’ which examines the concepts of Islam and democracy.

Dr. Al-Jamri is the son of a prominent Shiite opposition figure, the late Sheikh Abdul Amir Al-Jamri, who fought for equality and democracy in Bahrain.

MANSOOR AL-JAMRI
Well, I support this motion that Gulf states value profit more than people for a basic reason - that the Gulf governments' philosophy is based on the availability of funds that are generated from the oil wealth, that they use this fund in a way to - instead of trickling it down to the people - they use it either to silence the elite or to bypass their citizens and ignore their political rights, or to import people from the Indian sub-continent and abuse their rights, and therefore human beings are being used as a means to generate a profit. We witness from the fact that for the last, since 2000 up until now, we have had 5 percent in real terms growth, but the money has been pumped, 70 percent of the money that we have has been pumped into real estate, and real estate creates a fictitious image of prosperity, but we do not realise - I have seen myself, that these foreign workers live in conditions that cats and dogs will not accept. That these people are cheated and abused. Not only that, they are being used to suppress the political rights of the citizens. For example in Bahrain we have people who are ready to work, but they are asked to work within the same conditions as the Asian workers, and this is not possible, and as a result, the average salary in the private sector has decreased 15 percent over the years. We also witness that more than half of the population are waiting for residential units since 1992. At the same time we witness the construction of five luxury cities, all designated for the super rich as a second home or as a weekend home. I understand that investment cities will generate profit for the few, but half of the population will have to wait, will have to be crowded in one single house. We have four families, a father, a son and a grandson living in the same place, waiting since 1992. If it had been that the money would have been used for the benefit of the people, the infrastructure would have been prepared, the educational system which is under pressure now from the extra spending on so many, importing of lots of labour, would have been better and the health services are in dire circumstances. Quantitively we are okay. We have a higher health, better conditions, but if you look at it, the miserable situation that these people live in cannot be accepted. Human beings can never be used for profit. They are not a means, they are the end of any human endeavour.

Speaking against the motion


Sheikh Mohamed Althani served as Qatar’s Minister for Economy and Commerce from 2003-2006. He is a businessman and is currently involved in research at Oxford University.

Much of Sheikh Mohamed's career was spent in oil and gas and he was an important figure in the development of Qatar's energy sector.

He represented the state in international discussions on trade liberalization, later launching several initiatives to improve the efficiency of government departments as well as the Qatar Financial Centre.

He has been Chairman of Qatar Financial Centre Authority, Chairman of Doha Securities Market and board member of the Supreme Council of Economic Affairs and Investment.

MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
We are definitely against the motion. Tim, I will go above the discussions that I have heard so far. The Gulf States in the last five years only have spent $361 billion on health, education and infrastructure. If we look at the health improvements in the life of the people of the Gulf, you measure it through the life expectancy at birth and the mortality rate. Life expectancy has improved from 55 years 20 years ago, 25 years ago, to almost from 55 years to 75 years, 76 years. The mortality rate has come down from 98 to almost 14. This is an equivalent to the most advanced I would say countries. On the education side, we have almost all I would say children in primary school today in the Gulf. If we look at the initiatives and what has happened in this area, look at us today: from 1998, I would say the revolution that this country has led and its leadership, especially where we are sitting today. I mean, everybody here should look around and see how much money has been invested, not only money but ideas and how to bring the best quality of education and health-care and social services to the people of this country. We in the Gulf have what we call the 'good neighbour effect' and the good neighbour effect is that this has spread to Dubai, to the UAE, I would say from Oman today to Kuwait, we see a vision to 2025, you see Qatar's vision to 2030, where we have a vision. The first three pillars of it are the social, the economic, the social and the human capital are the key issues here. I want to say one thing also. This Education City here in Qatar has brought something that we have never seen in the Arab world. It has brought really diversity on the education side and democracy to the education. The education here, I bet anybody that governments of any country, state, would influence. We don't have any influence on the freedom of what really the young generation here can have. What I would say is, the leadership has really walked the talk. I need to continue, I still have three more points.


Dr. Tarik Yousef is an economist specialising in the Arab world and is the founding Dean of the Dubai School of Government. His current research interests include the dynamics of labour markets and development policies in oil-exporting countries.

Before his appointment in Dubai, Dr Yousef held senior academic positions at the School of Foreign Service and the Centre for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University.

His career has also included stints at the International Monetary Fund, the Millennium Project at the United Nations and the World Bank. He is now a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution as well as Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

TARIK YOUSEF

I think, Tim, as a matter of historical record and documented policy, the motion is inaccurate. If anything, I would claim, like many others including my colleague, Sheikh Mohamed, that the Gulf states, and since we're talking about states, let's focus on them, have demonstrated for a very long time a long-standing commitment to spending generously on their citizens at the expense of profit-making. How else can you justify the free housing, free health-care, free education, guaranteed employment in the public sector, allowances for marriage, even subsidies given to the private sector. I think the biggest surprise for many of us, especially from outside the Gulf Arabs, is the emergence of the Gulf in the last 10 to 15 years. The advances in social indicators, the rapid economic modernisation, especially relative to when these states became independent and started building themselves, and certainly compared to the rest of the Arab world. This much about the Gulf Arab States I think is undeniable and difficult to argue with. People vote with their feet. In a recent poll around the world, of the destinations that people wanted to seek for relocation, for opportunity, some of the Arab states in the Gulf topped the ten cities that were mentioned on that list, including Doha and Dubai. I think to view it differently, the Gulf Arabs, and rightly so, care about both people and profits. I would want them to do so. I like and have been impressed by how the state and the private sector work together, co-operate, co-ordinate, I am impressed by the nature of public/private partnerships. I'm impressed by how this model has now found itself to the rest of the Arab world and is now being emulated: a harmonious, co-operative relationship between segments of society, to further the interests of everyone, and other Arabs and other neighbourhood countries are benefiting from this, whether it's workers, remittances, foreign direct investment. It is difficult to argue with, or it's difficult to state the proposition that these Gulf States only care about the bottom line. Don't get me wrong, there are concerns, there are reservations, you've pointed them out. Sheikh Mohamed has admitted to them, but to state that profits or the profit motive is over-riding is simply wrong. If anything, these countries, these societies, have been founded on the notion that governments provide and states get their legitimacy on the basis of government provision, so states have to make profit to invest it back, to redistribute it back, and governments as such do redistribute and do honour at least a big portion of these commitments.


Audience Input


Abuses of workers:  the responsibility of the companies or the state
AUDIENCE (M)
Egypt. Sheikh Mohamed, how are workers in the Gulf countries getting their rights, when 45 workers live in one room, when 65 people have to run to a bus to get back home, when the workers work for 11 hours a day for 7 days a week, when workers are not allowed to go to malls, when they're not allowed to go to public places because they're meant for families - how is this valued by the people?
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
Yes, I got the point. I'm not denying there aren't any of these abuses, but they are individual abuses that companies or employers exercise on their, unfortunately, on these poor workers. Remember these workers also get abuses back home. Before they arrive to this land, they have to pay commissions to, - you name it. They unfortunately get these abuses and I can assure you, and assure everybody in this country or in the Gulf, that they are very serious about correcting these problems. There are inspections that go now to these camps. I am not going to sit here and defend contractors who abuse these workers unfortunately and their supervisors are also from their same countries.
TIM SEBASTIAN
But the state has a role as well in this, don't they? The state is responsible.
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
I can say the state is not keeping a blind eye on this, it's taking really extremely and all kinds of enforcements to stop it.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Let me just go back to the questioner for a moment and ask him, I think he has another point to make.
AUDIENCE (M)
Sheikh Mohamed, you said that there is strong and strict regulations. How could you explain after a building burning where six workers died, a week later the construction started. How is this valuing the workers?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, please let him answer.
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
Can I answer? These accidents will always happen, but they don't rise to the question of are we valuing, you know, profit, the state or the people is profiting from this. Let's look at the bigger picture, Tim. We don't want to get ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Well, I'm sure we're going to be looking at lots of pictures. Najeeb Al-Nauimi, you wanted to say something.
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
Can I say one point please.
TIM SEBASTIAN
One please, yes.
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
I have one point. I have read recently that Bahrain has increased its budget by I don't know how much, 40 percent, to make this waiting list zero for their waiting list for their houses.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, Najeeb Al-Nauimi, yes.
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
But I have read it somewhere recently that there is a zero waiting list for homes in Bahrain.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
Let me explain actually to you that the states actually value profits over people. Labourers here in the Gulf have been through so much suffering. Let me tell you that 120,000 went in Dubai one time, walking on the street - don't you think these people actually have been, their money has been devaluated, which actually the money they had received around 460 dirham or 600 to live for about 12 hours working and at the end of the day they had to go on the street, they have made a petition to the contractor, to the state: "With the money we have, it's not sufficient." They did not listen. They had to go. One of the senior people actually on the developers' side told me: "We had to solve it within two weeks because we acknowledged ...", after they walked out on the street, they acknowledged that their money is worth not much. They had to increase it by 25 per cent. In Qatar, just a few days ago, about 200 Nepalese have been kept for six months without salary in a miserable life - and they have to be deported. In Sharjah they have done the same. In Kuwait, the Bangladeshi issue, they went through so much frustration...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Do you want to answer that, Tarik Yousef? Let's just let him answer those points.
TARIK YOUSEF
At least since I'm familiar a bit with what's happening in Dubai, in Sharjah. What happened as a result of these riots, of this unrest, as far as the policy community, the government is concerned?
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
They increased their salary 25 percent.
TARIK YOUSEF
Now only the salaries. The Ministry of Labour went back, is in the process of hiring something like 600 inspectors. They centralised the payment system so that companies now will be caught if there are any delays, and they can monitor, and they have started slapping hefty fines on some of the violators. I think what Sheikh Mohamed was earlier trying to point to was precisely the point here. There are laws, there are challenges to these laws. The problems arise in the enforcement of these laws.
TIM SEBASTIAN
We've got a lot of questions out there.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
You have got to the point - enforcement of the states are not sufficient to cope with the problems here in the Gulf.


The rights of long term resident workers and their children born in country, eg medical care, education
AUDIENCE (F)
I am from Pakistan. So my question is: what would you say about this, that my father, he worked here for 40 year, I was born here and I have a sense of belonging to this country, Qatar. My brother is working for the army. My father is paying his rents. I am getting paid for my education, I am paying for it, and it's not free, for hospitals and everything...
TIM SEBASTIAN
So what is your question?
AUDIENCE (F)
My question is: I didn't get the education free, so what would you say about this?
TIM SEBASTIAN
You expect to have everything free, do you?
AUDIENCE (F)
Yes.
TIM SEBASTIAN
You do? That's quite an expectation.
Audience questionAUDIENCE (F)
Yes, because I am born here. I have a sense of belonging to this country, so my question is that what would you say about this, that you said education is free. It's not free.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Tarik Yousef, have you raised expectations too high?
TARIK YOUSEF
I think I have, and by the way, I did not condone the free provision of education. I think people ought to pay for some of these education costs as well as for many of the other welfare expenditures, otherwise governments get into trouble and nobody has anything in the final analysis, but I think the questioner here is pointing maybe to a set of other concerns, having to do with differences between the national and the expatriate community, legitimate differences, although we all, as expats, including myself in Dubai, do benefit from highly subsidised services that are given to all of us. I would be more in favour of making all of these services on a cost basis, so that the nationals and the expats share in helping to subsidise.
TIM SEBASTIAN
All right. Mansoor Al-Jamri, is the questioner asking for too much, what do you think?
MANSOOR AL-JAMRI
No, I think in a way that she was, anybody who is born somewhere, in the country, and they have sincerely been in one certain environment - they belong. The idea that we will bring people from outside, we will use their services for our benefit to keep down and compete with locals so that we don't need locals, so that locals will not, when they ask for their political rights - is not working, and the evidence is in front of us. This is a generation that were born here and they are demanding their rights. The international agreements now that are promoted by the United Nations provide civil rights for migrant workers.
TIM SEBASTIAN
It's a right to get everything free, is it?
MANSOOR AL-JAMRI
No, it's not a right, it is equality before the law. If you have a law... I don't mind paying provided I get rights for that. I pay tax in exchange for rights.


Citizens are valued by the state and have it good, so why look at the glass half empty
AUDIENCE (M)
My question is for Dr. Nauimi. Well actually I'm a Qatari citizen, I worked, I went through the whole education system in Qatar and also it was free, I went and studied abroad and it was free, came back, worked. I got, you know, not minimum wage, I got, you know, pretty decent salaries, and the question is: are we, I mean, education is basically free, even in Qatar Foundation or Education City it is free, as you mentioned, it is free for Qataris. It is paid by the government. Yes, it is.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
You must be working at the Foreign Office.
AUDIENCE (M)
No.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
Your father works in the Foreign Office.
AUDIENCE (M)
No, my father worked with the government.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
There is sponsorship. Yes, go ahead.
AUDIENCE (M)
Exactly. The other thing is that we are really focusing on labour. I mean, why are you guys looking at the glass half-empty. The citizens in Qatar, if we're focusing on the citizens of Qatar, they are getting land for free, they are getting loans for free, I mean, basically loans that they're paying over 30 or 40 years, these are the things that we need to focus on, these are the things that are actually happening, and what you're talking about is cases.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, let's have a former Justice Minister answer your question.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
Okay. First of all you have to understand, you are lucky, okay, one of the people who've been lucky.
AUDIENCE (M)
Most of Qataris are lucky.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
No they're not. You don't know the situation. Let me tell you something. You spoke about you've been educated, you've been educated in a private school or in a public school?
AUDIENCE (M)
Public government schools.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
Public government schools?
AUDIENCE (M)
Yes. Before the independent schools started.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
Before the independent schools, then you are too old.
AUDIENCE (M)
Yes, I am too old.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
Okay, sorry.
AUDIENCE (M)
I graduated from high school in 1997.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
Let me tell you something. I have written so much about the education in Qatar. I had columns in the newspaper, I was promoting that independent schools have to take a role to improve the educational system but not to be paid really because ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Can you answer his point, that he's done pretty well out of a system which clearly values its people, according to him.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
He knows that he had to wait for about ten years to get the land and the land is not for free.
AUDIENCE (M)
No, no, no, no. It's not two years. I graduated in 2004 ...
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
And you got the land the next day?
AUDIENCE (M)
... and worked in 2005, not next day, two years. It wasn't that long.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
I told you from the beginning, you are lucky.
AUDIENCE (M)
No, no, no, I'm not lucky, I'm a normal citizen.
TIM SEBASTIAN
We're not going to get very far on this. Just very briefly.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
Do you know, the land's now relinquished, at your time you had one thousand square metres.
AUDIENCE (M)
Audience questionI still have one thousand two hundred.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
Now your guys are being given six hundred metres. Relinquished, relinquished.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay. Excuse me, instead of talking over each other and me, we're going to take a comment from Sheikh Mohamed.
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
I'm very proud to have a Qatari who will stand and say this before us.
TIM SEBASTIAN;
I thought you'd say that.
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
Myself and Dr. Nauimi went to free education, he got a PhD, I didn't have the privilege of PhD on the government. What I'd like to say, Tim, can I, we have to look at the bigger picture. The Gulf has very limited people. Bahrain today has almost 50 percent foreign workers. I don't think Dr. Jamri will accept to neutralise them and make them citizens. I am sure he will not accept that because they have limited population. What I want to say, let's look at the Gulf in the bigger picture. The Gulf today is economically a success story. Nobody can deny it. Today we need to look at ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
It didn't look so good in the stock exchanges the last few days, did it?
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
Let me just... we have three things that the Gulf is focusing on really: to have a quality educated human capital, we are doing that; to have a robust and good private sector, we are doing that; and to have really an export economy. Today we are ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, Mansoor Al-Jamri, do you want to come in on that. You've had your three points. Let the other side respond to that.
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
This will make us creators of jobs. That's what we need. We don't want government jobs.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Thank you, Sheikh Mohamed.
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
I don't want government job, I want private sector job.
MANSOOR AL-JAMRI
First of all, I think as I say, the principle used by governments is wrong. They use the surplus amount of money to silence a small class or elitist class, to bypass their rights. We do not have political rights and therefore we accept giveaways and we accept, the state provides for some of the people, not all the people. If they can bypass all the people, because it is not a broadly based policy. You mentioned that some people are benefiting. Let me give you an example of ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Briefly please, briefly.
MANSOOR AL-JAMRI
Okay, let me give you an example of how people are waiting, and you mentioned Bahrain, people are waiting since 1992 for a residential permit. You go to the new areas, there are no parking spaces, do you know why? Because it brings more profit to fill up every plot of land by developers, and do you know who the developers are? They are well into the decision-making circles, so what I'm trying to say, you have a fictitious image of a prosperity by high-rise buildings but humans don't matter...


Why doesn't the state help the companies provide better conditions for workers
AUDIENCE (F)
Hello, good evening. My name. I'm a Qatari citizen and my question is for Sheikh Mohamed. My question is, why doesn't the government set a profit for construction companies to help them with accommodation and like medical health checks for the labour workers here?
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
I'm not the Labour Minister to answer, but what I know ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
You were Minister of Commerce.
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
Yes, I tried my best to make sure we raised the bar on these companies and I think we did. Now, it's policing them actually.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Well, isn't that also the job of government, to police the companies?
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
Yes, of course.
TIM SEBASTIAN
You police everybody else.
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
Of course we regulate, the government regulated this and they are stricter now than even three years ago. They really mean to solve this problem.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Your question assumes that you don't believe that answer.
AUDIENCE (F)
Not really because my uncle actually owns a construction company.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Can she just finish what she was saying?
AUDIENCE (F)
Audience questionMy question is, why doesn't the government set up like a budget for them, because construction companies, and we know now land costs a lot and health checks cost a lot of money, and these construction companies who have a lot of labour workers need that, need the support of their government to help that ...
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
No, no.
AUDIENCE (F)
... that's why they're putting these people in such small areas.
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI The company should run on a profit and loss, so the government cannot support a company to take care of their labourers, that's their problem.
TIM SEBASTIAN (to questioner)
But you think the government should have played a bigger role in this?
AUDIENCE (F)
Of course, the government should, of course.
TIM SEBASTIAN
In the treatment of migrant workers.
AUDIENCE (F)
Exactly.
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
To regulate the abuses that the gentleman there talked about.
AUDIENCE (F)
The companies here are under a lot of pressure from the government. They check the accommodations with these workers, then they don't like it. Well, these companies, it costs so much money for them to just get a land and put a lot of people in it, so why doesn't the government just help them with that. If you want the workers to be treated well, why don't you just help the companies?


Why don't the home countries of the workers take more responsibility for their welfare abroad
AUDIENCE (M)
Thank you, Mr. Sebastian. I'm from Kuwait. I would just like to say that in the past, most of the Gulf countries have mostly invested abroad and they've supported a lot of countries abroad, and we've ignored a lot of social aspects in our own countries in the GCC, and most recently we've developed and invested domestically. The link between the foreign labourers and the development of the GCC is that the infrastructure and the development that's been going on is linked to the foreign labourers, specially the unskilled workers who have been building the streets, building the buildings, and have created this development and the progress of the Gulf today in a way. But I believe that the link between the labourers and the government, especially with the recent laws that have been coming out, I think that a lot of the NGOs that have criticised the Gulf governments for not doing much, I believe that the unskilled labourers' own governments should take responsibility for the agencies that have sent them here and have not taken care of them properly.
TIM SEBASTIAN
So you don't think it's the role of governments? Najeeb Al-Nauimi, come back on this.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
Yes. You are from Kuwait?
AUDIENCE (M)
That's right.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
I think the best thing should be done by the Kuwaiti government is to nationalise the stateless there. You have a stateless number which is huge, it's a big breach of a human rights. People were born, for years and years, and they're not being given the chance to be a citizen. That's one thing. It's more important than really to just regulate it through a number of governments and through their embassy for the labourers. Labourers have been very harshly really hit on their heads. I can't disagree that the governments don't have laws or don't have regulations, or don't have enforcement power that they have to correct things and do things in a proper way. They have, but there are points where you find the labourers being very misled and labourers' departments always work on documents. I'll tell you a story. I received about four people with a burn on their faces ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Let the questioner come back.
AUDIENCE (M)
I believe that recently the governments have done a lot, for example Sheikh Maktoum in Dubai has publicly listed the companies that have abused the workers and this is a step forward. If we were talking about the past, that would be a different issue, but we're talking about today and things have changed a lot today. In regards to your statement about the stateless in Kuwait, we agree that a lot of them do deserve the citizenship but it's a complicated issue, it's a stalled issue. We hope the best for them but we are talking about prosperity today in the Gulf.


As a citizen feels has been taken care of by the state, and valued; any other arguments except the labour conditions for workers that prove the state values profits over people
AUDIENCE (F)
Good evening. I'm Qatari and this country has done so much for me that I really don't, I don't think they've done it to shut me up. I think they've done it because they care about me and my question is for those for the motion. I've been given a claim that our state prefers profit over their people, and the only argument I'm getting is because of the labour workers. Do you have any other arguments? I do agree that it's a fault, but there is a fault in every country, but do you have any arguments to give me the claim that ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Let's hear from Mansoor Al-Jamri and then come to you.
MANSOOR AL-JAMRI
Yes, I can give you lots of examples which are country-specific but I would like to generalise first and then come second to this. First of all there are about 35 million people in the Gulf Co-operation Council. About 40 percent of them are foreigners, which represent about 80 percent of our work force. Sooner or later you will find this society is totally different from what you imagine, because we will become a minority, even if we are privileged or not, so the new, the model that is being used, the market forces model that is used in the United States, Reagan's time, and Thatcher in the UK, where there is trickle-down effect, there is no trickle down effect here. It goes and it stays in pockets here and there, and if you come to ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
That's the same in every society.
MANSOOR AL-JAMRI
No, no, it's not. I mean there is social protection. If you go to European countries and others, there's more than 20 percent of government finances which is going into social networks to protect people equally. Over here what you have, you have a distorted society of haves and have-nots, and what we are creating, not only a class society inside one country, but the entire Gulf Co-operation Council is nothing but...
TIM SEBASTIAN
I think she wants to come back at you.
MANSOOR AL-JAMRI
... there is no integrated economy, there is competition on this cheap labour.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Mansoor Al-Jamri, let her come back to you.
Audience questionAUDIENCE (F)
Okay, but I've been given a claim that I myself prefer profit over people, you're talking about everything that that shows in the public. In my university for instance we have programmes where we educate the workers, we teach them English and that's something that we ...
MANSOOR AL-JAMRI
But the general trend is not what you are. I'm not saying that there does not exist bright spots here and there. This is a bright spot but this is not the Gulf, this is only part of the Gulf which is a small percentage, even if you take it in large amounts ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
But give her some other specifics, she's asking for specifics.
MANSOOR AL-JAMRI
I think seventy percent of our money in the Gulf goes into the buildings and real estates for developers. It doesn't come to you basically to the wider public in terms of infrastructure, in terms of everything that we aspire in the next fifty years for our children...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, let her come back, she wants to come back.
AUDIENCE (F)
I would just like to do something other than the labour argument. I think it's a fault.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Let's ask Najeeb Al-Nauimi.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
Wait, wait. I will tell you things which are not related to the labour. Fine, we know the situation is really different with labour. Let me give you an example of a citizenship here who received 2,900 per month, do you know that?
MANSOOR AL-JAMRI
Riyal.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
Do you know - riyal - do you know they get about less than $800, an old man who had worked for the government for years and years, an old woman.
TIM SEBASTIAN
That's more than they get on the state pension in Britain.
AUDIENCE (F)
Okay, but did they have ...
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
Another point. Do you know, do you know that elderly people who've been given one room, one bathroom, they don't own it and the day they died they have to leave the house for the government?
AUDIENCE (F)
Okay, you're talking about the jobs, okay, you are talking about citizens who are not having jobs. But you know, look at the bright side, look at the students. I'm in one of the top universities and I don't pay for anything. All I have to do is get average grades, not even good grades. All I have to do is get average grades and I'm getting education for free in one of the top universities.
NAJEEB AL-NAUIMI
There are some women who've been divorced because they were married to foreigners and their kids were brought up here in Doha and they cannot get what you have, because the father's actually a Bahraini or somebody, a different nationality, they've been deprived from their natural rights as people who've been born in Qatar.
TIM SEBASTIAN
All right, okay, Sheikh Mohamed.
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
But I think we are misleading this good discussion to go to the labour and looking at ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, we've looked at labour.
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
I think why don't we look at the brighter picture. I mean, if we are talking about the money and the profit, I mean, I felt in this motion which I have to say something about the investment that the Gulf States make. I wanted to make one for my Kuwaiti friend here. The Gulf has been also successful in its investments outside. I mean, let's not look at the situation now, but Kuwait was financed by its investments when it was occupied by Iraq, you know. Let's look at the Gulf as a unique example really of ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
But there have a lot of unsuccessful investments, haven't there?
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
I don't want this crowd to be misled by the bad treatment that the labourers get. Let's not forget that these workers remit from the Gulf $100 billion every year. I want also to make another point. Look at the US for example. We are almost a capitalist model in this region. There is no region in the world that does not care for profit. If you don't make profit, you don't employ your people. We cannot look at the people before the profit, they go together.
TIM SEBASTIAN
All right, okay.
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
One more thing.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Briefly.
MOHAMED AHMED ALTHANI
In the US there are three million Mexicans or I don't know, from South America, who are in this case of, you know, being citizens or not being citizens, three million of them. Nobody has talked about it in the way that some students went to look at camps which fortunately they can report them to the Labour Department, I assure you. The police will be there the next day.


The Result

The vote is 75 percent for the motion, 25 percent against.
The motion has been resoundingly carried.


What questions would you have asked?
What is your impression of where the responsibility for workers'conditions and benefits resides--state, company, home country? Other?
What, if anything, surprised you about the conditions described
In what ways are expats in a different category? In what ways are their situations similar?
Which side of the motion would you be on? Why?
How would you have voted at the end?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?

5 comments:

Qusay said...

I'm just going to add that "George Bush doesn't care about black people" Kanye West said that :)

Big corps do not care about the poor... in the US factories are closing down and opening in third world countries, the GCC is in the middle of all of this... so, it is complicated.

Wendy said...

What is your impression of where the responsibility for workers conditions and benefits resides--state, company, home country?
I think the responsibility for worker's conditions must begin with the state and in conjunction with the home country. By that I don't mean the state should be responsible financially nor the home country but they must have a set of strong rules and guidelines that employers must adhere to. The home country should ensure that working conditions for their citizens be good, income decent and health benefits provided.

Other?
I believe that citizenship should not be so hard to come by. If a worker spends most of his life in a country citizenship should be granted if it is desired and children born in the country should automatically be granted citizenship.

What, if anything, surprised you about the conditions described
Nothing surprised me. I was quite aware of the sorry conditions that guest workers face. I have personally seen maids never having a day off and working 12 - 18 hour days. I have not seen physical abuse but have certainly heard about it.

In what ways are expats in a different category?
I think they are looked after very well and have very good living conditions on company compounds.

Which side of the motion would you be on?
I would have been on the side that profit takes precedence over people.

Why?
Extreme wealth at the top major human rights violations (guest workers, women).
How would you have voted at the end?

I would have voted with the majority.

Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?
I think that Gulf countries have come a long way but there is still a long way to go. Poverty is not addressed very well and not enough money goes into helping the people. It is unfortunate with so much oil wealth that people still go hungry and without housing. There is no need for it. There is too big a gap between the rich and the poor and it is wrong to see guest workers to badly exploited.

NidalM said...

Well you already know my thoughts on many of these topics from the Multiculturalism post.

I thought the Pakistani audience member was onto a point until she started talking about why she wants things for free. I think her point should've been steered more towards not being able to say she is Qatari despite having an identity that links her to Qatar.

Personally, I've been one of the lucky ones. Growing up in Saudi, my school and university costs were all covered by the state (Dad teaches at a Public university). Even my subsequent Masters was funded by a private Saudi company. So it would be extremely disingenuous of me to claim the system or the government here is pure evil (profit profit PROFIT!)

But I will say there is a lot of improvements that can be made. Some audience members made good points about governments taking more active roles in helping TCNs (mandatory health checks, inspections, fines on violators).

Susanne said...

Interesting discussion. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Majed.

i always liked Tims discussions, it was a good discussion it gave a general idea about life of both citizens and immigrants (labourers )in gulf countries,only that everybody Oozed his own his own interst no one was fair enough to himself to give an abstract balance sheet of the situation, human right activist (only cared about human rights),the minister(gallantly defending the goverments) ,the Bahraini (is worried about superiority of the Shias in Bharain) the pakistani girl ( want wants everyting for free ) the Citizen the Qatar (is self-centered and they think the world is all about them ) etc...

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