By Jamie Etheridge
Yesterday, two important developments happened in Kuwait. In the first, a video circulated on social media of the senior leadership of a local company warning that layoffs were imminent. The company is a major employer, and no doubt many thousands of people, mostly expatriates, who work there are all freaking out. There are few things scarier than losing your job or your salary, especially during the middle of a global pandemic and global economic crisis. Already tens of thousands of expatriates have lost their jobs or had their salaries cut, and there are few opportunities at the moment to find new work.
The second news came late at night, from the Cabinet. In a statement published on KUNA, the state news agency, the Cabinet announced a raft of measures aimed at protecting the economy and securing the incomes of citizens who work in the private sector. In an unprecedented measure, the Cabinet also noted that it would be “establishing a mechanism to secure the minimum income that ensures facing the costs of living for workers affected by the current crisis and linked to contracts.” It’s not fully clear but it seems like the government might be saying that it will provide some basic unemployment support for expatriates.
The reality is that tens of thousands of expatriates in Kuwait may soon find themselves unemployed or at most partially employed, with little hope of finding new jobs. Though there is no legal obligation on the part of employers, there is still a moral obligation, a ‘duty of care’ to their employees.
We are grateful to the government for stepping up and helping all those who will be in need, but it is also time to ask why companies and corporations – especially multimillion-dinar corporations – have no duty of care for their employees? Why corporations work so well for the shareholders but never for the thousands of people who grow the business, who commit their time, energy, creativity, ideas, hard work and lifetimes to helping build a business?
In the United States, Macy just announced a massive layoff of 125,000 people due to the pandemic’s explosion in the US and the shutdown of the economy. These people may receive a onetime stimulus cheque from the government, possibly a few weeks of unemployment, and then they are on their own to survive or not. Meanwhile, major corporations and banks will receive yet another massive stimulus package because unlike individual Americans who can die homeless and starving on the streets, major corporations are ‘too big to fail’.
As this pandemic is showing us, we are all connected and interdependent, and that means we all share a ‘duty of care’ to each other. That means employers also have a moral obligation to their workers during times of crisis to ensure that they also are not allowed to ‘fail’.