Malls which were till recently buzzing with Indians now lie empty,as recession hits the Gulf region making the six-lakh strong expatriates jittery amid salary cuts and even retrenchment fears.
“The empty malls will tell you the story. We would dread to go on holidays there as they were flocked by Indians and you won’t get any parking but there is hardly any crowd these days,” says social worker Shino Abraham.
“I know of 12 families from Kerala whose members have lost jobs recently. Most of these people had plump jobs in banks,” says Abraham.
In some cases,both husband and wife have been left jobless. But since they don’t have much money to go back to India and settle they are continuing here and trying to find employment,says Mumtaz Sheikh,another social worker helping the Indian community in Kuwait.
Though cash-rich Kuwait with its petrodollars is considered relatively cushioned against the meltdown,its government only last week cleared a stimulus bill to inject USD five billion in the economy.
“When the whole world is affected,there is bound to be some effect here to but it is not to the extent in other gulf countries,” says B N Malhotra,Managing Director,Ogab and Hamoud Al Malek Trading Company.
Social workers are afraid that the trying financial conditions may aggravate other social problems like incidents of abuse of Indian maids.
“The Indian Women’s league led by actor-director Revathy has so far helped 479 Indians,including 302,victims of physical,mental and sexual abuse to return to India says Abhram,the outfit’s general secretary.
“Just last week we got a distress call from a maid who was badly beaten up by an Indian doctor couple and we helped her to take refuge in the shelter for destitutes,” she says.
The Kuwaiti Social Affairs and Labour Ministry maintains that the recession has had “no direct effect” on the labour in the oil-rich country. Denying any major layoffs,it said it was still receiving foreign labour recruitment applications.
There are over 1.1 million workers in the private sector and five lakh others in the government sector.
But the business community does admit to substantial losses to Kuwait in the stock markets mayhem across the world though the government is tight-lipped about it and no statistics are available. Similarly lay-offs are hardly reported by the media.
“One of the companies has sacked 40 people recently,” says a senior business journalist of a local daily. The recession has hit hard the Indian community which was reeling under inflation for quite some time.
“Kuwait has become very costly now. The flat rates have seen a hike,many schools have opened but with salary cuts and people not being paid for two to three month,it is not affordable,” says theatre personality and event manager Arif Kazi.
With employers resorting to salary cuts and lay offs,expatriates,including the Indians,are first to face the heat,says Abraham. According to the government rules,companies have to a keep a certain percentage of Kuwaitis in their workforce.
Many feel that those in the private sector face more risk. “The government does not lay off here generally. The salaries and perks are good and you have lots of facilities. In the private sector,it is a bit tough,” agrees Dr Vinod Grover,who has been working in the country for over two decades.
According to Abha Gandhi,senior Business Editor,Al Watan Daily,while recession might have seriously impacted Dubai and other parts of the region,there has been virtually no slowdown in the construction of new cities in Kuwait,which will offer more jobs to expatriates.