Kuwait - Working conditions

Kuwait's vast wealth has attracted many immigrants from poorer countries who come looking for work. Thus,

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Kuwait 21,838 16,922 10,736 N/A N/A
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Saudi Arabia 9,658 11,553 7,437 7,100 6,516
Qatar N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.

after decades of immigration , at least 55 percent of the total population of Kuwait are foreign, and the rate within the workforce is even higher (84 percent). In the private sector, 94 percent of employees are expatriates, working in shops, services and, frequently, as domestic servants. Only about 26 percent of Kuwaitis participate in the workforce, as opposed to 70 percent for expatriates. The Kuwaiti participation rate , although still low, has been gradually increasing (it was 22 percent in 1989) owing to a rise in female participation in the workforce. For cultural and social reasons this rate is still low, and, because of Kuwait's oil wealth, many women do not need to work.

Kuwaiti citizen workers—95 percent are government employees—are entitled to join unions. However, according to the U.S. State Department's Country Commercial Guide for 2001 , in June 1998, there were only 50,000 union members. There is a legal minimum wage in the government sector, but none in the private sector. Public health care is free to citizens, but a health insurance charge is levied on employers to cover expatriates (most workers in the private sector). Foreigners thus do not benefit equally from the state social services, which favor Kuwaiti nationals.

About 40 percent of Kuwaitis are under the age of 14, and young Kuwaitis are seeking jobs in steadily increasing numbers. These factors are a cause for growing government concern, and the government will at some point have to abandon its guarantee of a public sector job for every university-educated citizen. One recent measure is the "Kuwaitization" of the economy, promoting the employment of Kuwaitis over foreign labor in the private sector and limiting immigration. It has been nearly impossible for foreign workers to obtain Kuwaiti citizenship; those who do achieve it are not entitled to vote for another 20 years.

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