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58 percent unemployed Kuwaitis unwilling to work in private sector – Efforts to Kuwaitize private sector largely failed

KUWAIT: Nearly 58 percent of unemployed Kuwaitis refuse to work in the private sector, preferring to wait until a public sector job becomes available, according to government labor statistics released this week.

The data suggests that government efforts to encourage more citizens to work within the private sector – including through the distribution of matching stipends and other benefits – has largely failed. Almost 87 percent of Kuwait’s national labor force works in the public sector, according to the 2015 Labor Force Survey published by Kuwait’s Central Statistical Bureau (CSB).

Kuwait’s Constitution guarantees all citizens work, under Article 41: “Every Kuwaiti has the right to work and to choose the type of his work. Work is a duty of every citizen necessitated by personal dignity and public good. The State shall endeavor to make it available to citizens and to make its terms equitable.”

The public sector remains the most attractive employer for a variety of reasons: shorter working hours, often less demanding work, all public holidays, benefits and perks not always available in the private sector and security since locals cannot be fired except in extreme circumstances.

Unemployment among Kuwaitis reached 4.7 percent in 2015 according to the recent statistics. The total unemployment rate reached 2.2 percent, down from 2.5 percent according to earlier statistics. Furthermore, the statistics show that 1.8 percent non-Kuwaitis are unemployed.

The reliance on foreign labor in the private sector, however, has been a controversial issue. Almost 95 percent of employees in the private sector are foreigners, and it currently employs nearly 75 percent of expatriate workers in Kuwait (not including domestic helpers, who make up 17 percent of expatriate workers). This situation meanwhile continues to cast a shadow on the government’s ability to go ahead with its planned demographic structural strategies, through which Kuwait looks to cut down the expatriate population from 69 percent of the total population today to a future not more than 50 percent.

Wage and education
According to the statistics, nearly 94 percent of expatriate workers in Kuwait are paid less than KD 600 a month, while that percentage increases in the private sector to 96 percent. Statistics released earlier by LMIS had indicated that the average salary of expatriates in the private sector stands at KD 251 a month.

The majority of expatriates in Kuwait are concentrated in categories which do not necessarily require labor with high academic qualifications, such as construction, manufacturing industries as well as wholesale and retail sectors. The statistics seem to support this argument, as they show that nearly 39 percent of expatriates in Kuwait have ‘primary and below’ education level, 35 percent with intermediate, compared to only 13 percent university graduates. On the other hand, the statistics show that university graduates dominate the numbers of Kuwaiti labor forces in both sectors with nearly 45 percent in general.

The 2015 Labor Force Survey (LFS) was conducted and released by the Labor Market Information System (LMIS), which is affiliated to the CSB. It covered a sample that included 5,286 families and 220 groups of workers housed by institutions. It is a standard household-based yearly survey of work-related statistics. Household survey usually are the most reliable and complete source of labor market information. The analysis of the LFS 2015 provides a good snapshot of the labor market situation in Kuwait.

By Ahmad Jabr

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