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136 workers abandoned by employer, left without water, electricity

By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: Workers from various countries in Africa and South Asia have been left without electricity and water at their camp in Mahboula for two months now. The spokesman of the group, Chengetai, a 45-year-old Zimbabwean, claimed their management abandoned them since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For the last six months, we don’t have a salary – we are surviving on donations. We have a Kuwaiti sponsor but he is not involved in the operation. Our actual employer is a Singaporean who left before the lockdown. So we are abandoned, literally. We staged a sit-in protest in June and they promised us to pay our salaries, but it was only a promise. The sponsor did not deliver on his promise, maybe because he is not involved directly in our company,” Chengetai said.

“Since March, he has given us only KD 800, which we divided among 136 workers from various countries, so barely KD 6 in the last six months, meaning we only got KD 1 per month! In this company, the majority of us are from Zimbabwe – 51 – and 29 from Mozambique, with the rest from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka,” he said.

“We are destitute here and want to go back home to our countries, but we need our money. We need to help our families survive too. One of our colleagues died of COVID, some are sick, but we are trying to survive. Some of our fellow workers have no iqamas too,” Chengetai said.

He said harassment by the building’s haris started in April, when the building owner cut their electricity and water to force them to leave the building. “After some negotiations, they reinstated the electricity and water, but they continue to pressure us. Now they cut it once in a while – in June they completely stopped the water, while electricity is cut erratically to pressure us to leave the building. Some of us are forced to sleep in the corridors to get fresh air in the middle of the night. This is a terrible situation for us and I hope the government and our respective embassies help us,” he said.

The men mostly work at a division at KOC under a subcontracted company to dispose explosive devices and ordnance. However, there are drivers, machine operators and others who have been working in the company for years.

According to Chengetai, the embassies of Zimbabwe and Mozambique were earlier informed about their situation, but little has been done for them. “We are very sad and some of us have been experiencing medical problems because of stress and anxiety. But we want to get our salaries before we go back to our countries. How can we start a life back in our countries without money in our pockets,” he asked.

Kuwait Times had reported their predicament in June when Mahboula was under lockdown. An estimated half a million expat workers lost their jobs and many did not receive salaries as their companies closed down during the pandemic. “We understand we are all in a dire situation, but be kind to us too – we are all human. How can we live without water and electricity in the middle of summer,” Chengetai demanded. The workers are appealing to authorities to assist them to recover their unpaid salaries and provide them with plane tickets to return to their respective countries.

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