Arabian Business: "Labourers living in homes 'not fit for cats and dogs'"

Gulf states are seeking to buy people’s silence through state hand-outs while unskilled foreign workers are living in conditions “unacceptable to cats and dogs”, according to a leading Bahraini newspaper editor.

Dr Mansoor Al-Jamri, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Bahrain’s daily Alwasat newspaper, drew loud applause at Qatar’s BBC televised Doha Debates with his comments.

He said: “The governments have a philosophy based on oil wealth, but instead of letting it trickle down to the people they use it to silence the elite or to by-pass their citizens.”

He added that in Bahrain the average salary in the private sector had dropped by 15 per cent in recent years and more than half the population had been waiting to be housed since 1992.

Speaking of the wretched housing which so many foreign workers from the Indian sub-continent endure in Gulf states, Al-Jamri said they had to live in conditions “that cats and dogs would not accept.”

He warned that if these workers, who make up the vast proportion of unskilled labour, continued to be treated like third class citizens, their inability to share in the decision-making process or have a right of domicile would ultimately lead to the intervention of international bodies in the affairs of Gulf states.

Al-Jamri was speaking at the latest Doha Debate, a unique public debating forum in the Middle East, whose 350-strong audience voted 75 per cent to 25 per cent in favour of a motion that “Gulf Arabs Value Profit over People.”

He told the mainly Arab audience attending the debate, to be broadcast on BBC World News on November 22-23, that token trade unions existed in Bahrain and Kuwait but that they were deprived of powers of collective bargaining and the protection of international labour organisations.

“I am always hearing in the media and from officials how this is not the right time for the participation of the people. They say: we will give you free education and free housing, but just shut up and don’t criticise.”

His colleague on the panel, Dr Najeeb Al-Nauimi, a former Qatari Justice Minister and later lead counsel defending Saddam Hussein in Iraq, condemned governments which summarily deport not just unskilled, foreign labour but teachers and sometimes doctors.

Al-Nauimi decried the lack of compassion towards a labour force which builds extravagant construction projects on meagre salaries with minimal social benefits.

“Oil prices and cheap labour are the basis of our economies,” which depend in turn “on the silence of our citizens,” he said.

Al-Nauimi warned that the Indian sub-continent was forging ahead by opening up its societies to a working, middle and upper class with rights. “We are (just) citizens of the Gulf and represent a marginal class, marginalised by the political process.” (for full article click

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