Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Living Off One Hundred Dollars | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Ahmed is one of the half a million Bangladeshi laborers working in the Gulf. According to local reports, they are accused of committing many appalling crimes. Some of these reports are true whilst others are nothing but local urban legends.

I asked Ahmed about the problems within his community, to which he responded, “What problems?” He is unaware of the rising backlash against Bangladeshi laborers in the Gulf that Bangladeshis are encountering more than other low-paid laborers of other nationalities who are brought in from all over the world.

I asked Ahmed about his current situation and he explained that his monthly salary is around 1,000 United Arab Emirates Dirhams [AED], which is roughly the equivalent of US $300. However, the truth is that he only receives less than US $100 per month, because the remaining US $200 is kept by his employers to cover his accommodation and the cost of two meals per day.

If he decides to return home out of despair, he would have to pay a severance fee that would be deducted from his salary, leaving him indebted to his employers for a period that might cover the entire length of his original contract.

That means that a laborer who receives only US $100 per month might consider himself a victim of injustice and will strive to obtain his rights.

These laborers dream of a job opportunity in the Gulf in order to support their families, with many of them having to pay recruitment agents for that opportunity.

Upon arrival, they are confronted with one of two situations: either they are lucky enough to receive a salary of US $300, two-thirds of which will be deducted by their employer, leaving them with US $100 to live off, or they arrive to find that their sponsorship has been transferred to another sponsor, who would leave the burden of job seeking to the laborer. In this case, they would be considered free laborers, and would have to search for unlawful jobs, manage their own accommodation and food, and most importantly, pay their sponsor on a regular basis.

Our friend Ahmed is amongst the lucky few in comparison to others. He earns around 1000 AED, just over US $300 per month and he is registered with the company. However the company keeps US $200 for accommodation and food.

Therefore it is not difficult to understand why crimes, especially theft, are on the rise among cheap laborers.

The question for the security authorities, who are currently targeted by the media because of the rising number of crimes committed by low-paid foreign laborers, is why do they not have a clear stance on the matter?

This serious problem exists because the variables in the equation do not add up. We all know that many of these laborers can hardly afford food on a daily basis or that they come with a promising vision only to discover that they have been deceived.

Isn’t this reason enough for them to turn to crime?

These laborers did not come to build a country or to entertain but to earn a living to feed their families; US $100 will push them towards theft. Moreover, the cost of protecting society is much higher than the cost of improving the living conditions of these laborers.

The fact that our society can afford to live without the luxury of the unskilled workforce is certainly not an overstatement. In order to address this issue, a fixed minimum wage needs to be introduced, in an effort to protect those most vulnerable in our societies, and to protect our communities from corporations and sponsors who are nurturing this new “slave trade”.