KUWAIT: About 300 Bangladeshi workers staged a peaceful sit-in protest yesterday at their accommodation camp in Mangaf over unpaid salaries and what they claim to be extortion in exchange for their residency visas. The workers – cleaners and porters – are protesting by refusing to go to work, saying that they have not been paid for three to four months. “How can we survive here in Kuwait without money? We have to eat every day,” said one protester who asked that his name not be used. Industrial action, including strikes and peaceful protests, by expatriate workers is illegal in Kuwait, and organizers and participants can face fines, jail time or deportation.
The workers also claim that a company manager, also a Bangladeshi, is taking money for visas without the company’s knowledge. The cleaners and porters claim that the manager forces all staff to pay an illegal fee of KD 600 for the renewal of their iqamas. He also makes them pay a fee of KD 200 when they ask to go on annual leave (KD 100 on leaving and KD 100 on joining back). Some of the workers claimed to have paid KD 2,650 to get visas from a ‘local visa trader’ in Bangladesh, but were again asked to pay more for the visas once they arrived in Kuwait.
“Since he [the manager] joined the company two years ago, this has been his practice,” one of the protestors alleged. “Some workers complained, but no one listened. So we thought that after this protest, our voices will be heard and that he’ll be dismissed. And hopefully, our delayed salaries will be paid,” said Shihab, who’s acting as the workers’ spokesperson. When contacted, the manager of the company declined to comment.
Another elderly worker said he paid KD 629 for his iqama renewal. “I paid KD 300 at first, then he came back to me asking for another KD 230. Then after a month, he asked for KD 100 again, but I was only able to give KD 74. A month later, I gave him another KD 25,” he said. “This is too much. Many of us only draw a KD 60 salary per month. How can we survive if this crime is not stopped?” he asked.
Abdul Latif Khan, First Counselor at the Bangladeshi Embassy in Kuwait, said they sent two embassy officials yesterday afternoon to see the condition of the workers. “We have already spoken with the company officials. Rest assured that we will be taking necessary action,” he said. However, a friend of some of the workers disputed this claim, noting that no one from the embassy had visited the workers or intervened.
By Ben Garcia