Kuwait to Lay Off Thousands of Expat Workers and Replace Them With Locals

Workers (representational picture) Pixabay

Kuwait seems to have taken the first step towards replacing its expat workers with local people. The country's municipality will soon dismiss all expat employees and start replacing them with Kuwaitis.

Kuwait's Minister of State for Municipal Affairs Walid Al Jasim confirmed the development on Monday, May 10, according to a the local English-language daily Kuwait Times.

No New Expat Appointments

There is also a call for freezing all employment applications from expats, cancelling those under process and ending renewal of contracts of existing employees, according to the report.

The Kuwaiti Municipality is the administrative arm of the central government in Kuwait City and reportedly employs more than 1,000 expats.

The minister said the foreign workers' roles will be replaced by Kuwaiti citizens and by boosting the use of automation and technology.

The decision was welcomed by Kuwaiti authorities who said they expect all expats working in the government to be replaced within a year.

Abdulkarim Abdullah Al-Kandari, a member of parliament, said such moves were required because despite regulations to reduce the number of foreigners in government jobs, expats continue to comprise 26 per cent of the public sector roles in the country.

The legislation on jobs, which must to be reviewed and approved by the Kuwaiti National Assembly and accepted by the government, gives all governmental agencies a period of one year to terminate all expat employees.

The replacement plan will be discussed by senior Kuwaiti officials and further details will be made available after the Eid-al-Fitr holiday.

The proposed law also calls on all government agencies to announce replacement plans within three months of enacting the legislation.

As per the proposal, in case no local Kuwaiti applies for a certain government job, the agency is allowed to appoint an expat for that role, but on a temporary basis for a period of one year only. The tenure, can however, be renewed if required.

Kuwaiti MPs' Call

Members of the Kuwaiti National Assembly have urged the Gulf city-state to "nationalize" its population.

Last year, a female Member of the Kuwaiti Parliament, Safa Al Hashem, had reportedly urged the GCC state to expel close to two million expatriates from the country over the period of the next five years in order to set right the country's "demographic imbalance." At the time, she had said that it was necessary to have local Kuwaitis to be more than 50 per cent of the country's population.

Like may other Gulf states, Kuwaitis make up only a minority of the country's population, making up just about 30 per cent of the GCC state's 4.6 million population.

'Kuwaitization' Campaign

Al Jasim's decision to replace all expat employees from government roles with locals and suspending the appointments of new expats seems to have "stirred stagnant water" on the issue of Kuwaitization, amid calls for similar steps in all sectors across Kuwait to get rid of "unproductive manpower."

According to a Gulf News report, sources close to Kuwait's marginal jobs' file revealed a "containment" government plan that explains the reduction of the municipality jobs for expats as a "first step". This would be followed by other "serious" steps, mainly laws envisaged to eventually put an end to the "unreasonable increase" in the number of expat communities, which constitute more than 70 per cent of the Kuwaiti population.

The report cites the sources as confirming the expat replacement move will come into effect very soon, and that its application will be more effective in government jobs.

600,000 Marginal Workers May be Laid Off

The sources also reportedly said that the number of "marginal workers" in Kuwait, both legal and illegal, exceeded 600,000, according to the latest statistical data.

They claim that more than 168,000 people who had violated Kuwaiti residency norms, were granted a one-month grace period to leave the country without paying any fines. The sources claimed there were over 400,000 people living in Kuwait who can be considered marginal labor, as they do not work for any sponsors and work as daily wagers.

In addition to the marginal workers and violators of residency, there is also a huge workforce, comprising of non-technical workers who are hired by the government and the private sector, that can be replaced. However, they sometimes perform office work as well.

Adding that the replacement of foreign workers in the public sector in Kuwait will be applicable within three months after the coronavirus pandemic ends, the sources said expat workers will be screened in the government sector and whoever is hired by the outsourcing system in non-technical jobs will be laid off. The contracts of the expats regardless of their post will not be renewed, especially in government agencies.

The government will reportedly develop educational and training programs to equip Kuwaiti youth to fill up specialized jobs.

Kuwait is expected to implement a "quota system" in order to make sure that the largest expat community does not exceed 20 per cent of the expat population. Also, members of a single community will not be allowed to have a dominant proportion.

Teachers and Doctors to be Spared

While the future of non-technical and marginal workers in the country looks bleak, the technical roles in the ministries of education and health will be filled up by talented people of different nationalities. Kuwait's Education Ministry will likely hire teachers from countries such as Jordan, Palestine, Tunisia and Mauritania. The country's health ministry will hire doctors from India and Pakistan.

Khalil Al Saleh, who heads the Human Resources Development (HRD) Committee at Kuwait's National Assembly, said the HRD Committee had already warned against the growing number of expatriates in the country and had proposed replacing them with locals in government jobs. The committee had also asked for the quota system to be approved.

Kuwaitis blame marginal employment for the lack of growth and the depletion of the country's human resources. The coronavirus-led economic slowdown and plunging oil prices have prompted the government to take strict measures to address the issue.

Parliamentarians and authorities have shown their support for the new legislation. MP Al Hashem said she would support the quota system on one condition: the number of people from one expat community should not exceed 100,000. She appealed for suspending hiring of expats for sensitive positions and ending their clout in government decision-making.

"It is unacceptable that Kuwaitis account for less than 30 per cent of the population," she said.

A similar law was recently announced in neighboring Oman. The Sultanate ordered its state-owned companies to replace expat workers with local Omanis in a move seen as a revival of the "Omanization" campaign of the Sultanate's late ruler Sultan Qaboos.