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Riots and Internet Offenders

From today’s Arab Times:

Kuwait preparing law to punish ‘Internet offenders’: Al-Othman
KUWAIT CITY (AP): Kuwait’s prosecutor general says Internet offenders will no longer be able to escape punishment in this country. Hamed Al-Othman says in an interview with Al-Qabas daily published Sunday he has prepared a bill that criminalizes promoting vice, incitement against the country’s leadership, divulging state secrets, or insulting Islam on the Web. If convicted, offenders would be sentenced to up to one year in jail and/or a fine, but face seven years in prison if their victims are minors. Al-Othman’s office confirmed that he made the comments to Al-Qabas.

The draft Internet crime and data information law recently passed by the Public Prosecution Department will be forwarded to the Council of Ministers for their consideration, adds Al-Othman.
Al-Othman explained the importance of passing such a law at this time, saying “it’s obvious to all who care about protecting our customs and the future generations that such a law is needed to combat the increasing electronic crimes associated with the ever-improving electronic technology. “The law will include 37 articles and punishment for those who fall foul of the law will be either jail sentence or financial fine,” he added.

Protest turns violent in fight over pay
KUWAIT CITY : A riot by about 2,000 workers of Al-Jawhara Company for Stevedor-ing and Cleaning in their camp in Hassawi led to the destruction of six vehicles and injuries to five camp officials, says K. John, the company’s Operations Manager. The manager was speaking to the Arab Times Sunday after the riot was brought under control by policemen. The riot, which began Saturday night, reached its peak by Sunday morning and continued till noon. The workers, John said, were disgruntled over their wages and were demanding a hike, talks over which have been going on for the last couple of weeks. “The recent outbursts in other cleaning companies stoked the angry workers to violence Saturday,” he added.

Meanwhile, late Sunday evening, the Ministry of Social Affairs agreed to almost all demands of workers of cleaning companies who had threatened to go on strike, besides setting a minimum wage of KD 40 for cleaning workers – without any deductions an embassy official said on condition of anonymity. The embassy official added that the ministry has also asked the cleaning companies to pay for health and residency fees of their workers and that companies which violate the rights of workers will face “full force of the law.” The official also said that Bangladeshi officials, who maltreat or exploit their workers, will be referred to the concerned authorities.

A mob of hundreds of Bangladeshi cleaners had attacked their company’s office in Jleeb Al-Shyoukh Saturday evening, and beat up five supervisors who were reportedly exploiting the workers, some cleaners told the Arab Times.

The workers were protesting about their unpaid wages and poor working conditions. All five supervisors are Bangladeshis and are currently being treated at the Farwaniya hospital.
A cleaner said the condition of the two injured officials was critical. However, this could not be independently confirmed.

The cleaners reportedly damaged furniture, computers, printers and other office equipment in the attack that lasted for a few minutes.

According to the workers, no arrests were made and a large police force was deployed at the camp from Saturday evening until late Sunday afternoon.

The timely arrival of police and embassy officials prevented the situation from spiraling out of control, added the cleaners. The workers said that they embarked on indefinite strike from Sunday and that they will not return to work unless all their problems are redressed by the company.
This is the first violent demonstration to grip Kuwait since the strikes of Bangladeshi cleaners began last Sunday.

Some of the problems facing the workers include: underpayment; company is making them pay for the health and residency fees; some cleaners are made to work for more than eight hours without any overtime benefits; company is not allowing workers to take vacation every two years; company is not granting sick leave, among other problems.

About 5,000 Bangladeshi cleaners are employed with this local company and are placed at various government establishments.

Jleeb Al-Shyoukh is home to thousands of Bangladeshi cleaners, who live in squalid camps and a majority of them are paid as low as KD 18 salary.

Another worker told the Arab Times that the problem had been simmering for a long a time and that the five supervisors were warned by them not work against workers’ interests.

He added that the trouble began when some of the workers confronted the supervisors as to why they were deducting their pay and that two supervisors reportedly threatened some cleaners, thereby leading to the showdown.

He said that the officials of the ministry of social affairs and labour rushed to the camp Saturday evening and urged the workers not to resort to violence and that they would put an end to their grievances as soon as possible.

Expressing his views on the company’s alleged apathy, another worker said: “We tried to resolve our problems with the company in an amicable manner, but our appeals fell on deaf ears. The supervisors in question are hand in glove with the company’s managers and used to report every development that took place at the camp.”

“When we decided to go on strike a few days ago, the supervisors quickly informed the company. The company then scuttled our plans by turning up the heat on our representatives. We know it is wrong to take the law in our hands but our situation was worsening by the day.”

The ministry of social affairs and labour has taken tough measures against cleaning companies that violate rights of workers, even as the ministry recently said that it had cancelled the contract of a company whose workers went on strike last Sunday.

On Saturday, senior officials of the ministry managed to convince some 7,000 Bangladeshi cleaners to drop their strike, who had threatened to stop work on Sunday if their demands were not met.
According to the workers, the ministry has agreed to all their demands and that they would be paid KD 40 salary, up from KD 8. It was also reported earlier that the ministry will soon send inspectors to labour camps to take a stock of workers’ living conditions and also to address their grievances.

When asked why the workers were unhappy over the wages, John said the issue is very complex, and the government is partly to be blamed for the current state of affairs. “The workers demand health insurance, which is KD 50 per person, while it is only KD 10 for domestic maids. This makes it very difficult for companies to provide health insurance of its workers.

“The municipality pays just about KD 23 per cleaning worker, and the government can’t expect us to pay more than that. Our workers receive anywhere between KD 20 and KD 70 depending upon their rank and job.

“Tendering rules also need to be reformed by the government. There are many small players who make abysmally low quotes to win tenders and bring down the quality of this sector. This despite the fact that we need to show bank guarantees of very huge sums to win tenders,” John explained.
Stressing the cleaning companies are an asset to the nation and should be treated with due importance, John said “the government has to provide us lands at subsidized rates to help sustain the industry.

“The workers ransacked the rooms in the camp and destroyed some computers. We also suspect that workers from neighboring camps joined in the riot, adding to the ferocity of the violence. The project manager had to be rescued from the camp by the police from the marauding rioters,” he revealed.

When asked what future course of action the company is planning to take, John said a meeting of the Cleaning Companies Association was called Sunday evening, “and the issue was to be discussed to find a solution to this problem that’s getting out of hand.”

“The demands of the workers are not wholly over the board given the inflation rates in the state. If the issue is not resolved many government institutions and private companies will be hit,” John added.

“The workers at Al Jawhara Company do not have any unpaid dues and all their salaries are paid in time,” he concluded.

KUWAIT: Acting Assistant Undersecretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour for labour sector Hamad Al-Me’dhadi revealed Sunday that the main reason behind the majority of recent strikes was the demand for salary increase.

He said that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour will report to the Cabinet on these strikes coinciding with another report to be submitted by the Ministry of Interior in this regard.
He added that ministry officials met with a representative of the Bangladeshi embassy and informed him that the strike of laborers must be expressed in an orderly manner and according to official channels.

He pointed out that it had been agreed with the Bangladeshi embassy that there should be representatives for all those laborers so that the ministry’s legal researchers and inspectors can listen to the workers demands.

Meanwhile, the issue of continuous strikes by expatriate workers and their rights are on top of the agenda for the Council of Ministers’ meeting on Monday. The meeting will be presided by the Acting Prime Minister and the Defense Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah.

“The Cabinet is ready to sanction erring companies and they may request the National Assembly to pass the new labor law at the beginning of the next parliamentary term,” Source added.

By Francis A. Clifford Cardozo and Valiya Sajjad
Arab Times Staff

July 28, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Community, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Free Speech, Health Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, News, Social Issues | 10 Comments

Culture Shock

AdventureMan and I have discovered we have lived overseas for so long that we suffer from a little culture shock every time we come back to the United States. We come back two or three times a year, so you would think we’d be keeping up on everything, but things change and we fall behind, especially when we are not living here.

Here are some things – like nobody writes checks anymore. I’m not exactly sure what people do. One time, before I had my burner phone, I went in to Verizon to activate an account, and when I went to pay, the woman looked at my $100 bill (most of which was going to activate my account) and her mouth formed a little “o” and after a pause she said “oh, I don’t think we have change for that here.”

I said “there isn’t going to be that much change!” as I think it was going to come to like $89 something, but she laughed and said “but no-one pays with cash anymore!”

I was really embarrassed. “How do they pay?” I asked, and she said “Everyone pays by credit card.” “No problem,” I responded, “I can pay by credit card,” which I did and everything was cool. Then I started watching, and everyone was paying by credit card, maybe a few with debit cards, but usually the debit card machines were malfunctioning, I don’t know why.

We know a lot of the young people don’t have land lines into their homes anymore, and that makes sense to us. We aren’t sure how people connect for television – it seems there are a lot of different ways, so how do you figure out which is the best? And some have phone, cable and internet all bundled together, and you pay one bill . . . again, how do you know which is the most cost effective?

If people don’t write checks anymore, how do they pay their bills? I have been doing some bill paying online, which sure is convenient when you live in Kuwait and have bills to pay in the USA, but is that how normal people pay their bills, like utility bills? Magazine subscriptions? And if you do that, how do you keep track of things for taxes, when you don’t have checks to back you up?

It’s almost overwhelming, trying to figure all these things out.

In some areas, I feel like I am anti-too-much. Like I don’t want a GPS in my rental car – I know the area, and I know how to use a map to figure out where I need to be. I know how to use GoogleMaps! Sometimes the GPS things are just distracting to me. I have a bad feeling that makes me old fashioned.

This morning, my first back in Seattle, it was raining softly. I was glad; a little rain helps keep Seattle green. On the other hand, I had thought I would go for a walk, and the steady light rain was a little too much rain for walking – for me, anyway. There were a lot of Seattle people out walking – they wear rainhats, lightweight rainproof jackets – and shorts!

Gas is running around $4.59 a gallon, in contrast with 80 cents a gallon in Kuwait. 😦

July 28, 2008 Posted by | Community, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Living Conditions, Seattle, Social Issues | 11 Comments