Kuwait - Strikes occur despite restrictions – government bans strikes (2012)

Strikes are increasing despite being only officially allowed in the private sector, which is not organised, is very small and is mostly composed of some 1.7 million foreigners. 2011 saw an unprecedented wave of strikes and industrial action in the public sector, which employs close to 80% of the 360,000-strong workforce of Kuwaiti nationals after state oil sector workers managed to negotiate pay rises of up to 66% from the state. Since then, employees of several ministries and public sector institutions have lobbied for better salaries and benefits - customs officials, port workers, and staff at the Ministries of the Interior, Health and Social Affairs and Labour all started mass walkouts in protest against poor salaries and benefits. The strike action also affected the Kuwait airlines where 5,000 employees are facing a proposed privatisation process. Although the Kuwaiti employees were planning strike action, foreign employees were being advised to continue working as they are more vulnerable to being sacked without notice during a strike.

In September, around 850 Kuwaiti port workers began daily two hour strikes over wages, disrupting operations at three commercial ports. On 25 October the government agreed to raise wages following a short strike organised by the 4,000-strong KAC Workers Union that grounded half of the airline’s fleet. In early October, workers from the Kuwait Stock Exchange called off a planned 19 October strike after reaching an agreement with the government over money owed. The dispute centered on bonus payments and the impending transfer of employees from the bourse to a newly formed Capital Markets Authority (CMA). The Kuwait University’s academic society also planned a demonstration on 26 October over salary increases.

Government officials in Kuwait have repeatedly told striking workers they would not consider any demands while walkouts are taking place. In October, the government announced it was planning a new law which would punish striking civil servants and restrict strike action. In response to the strike wave on 17 October the Foreign Minister tendered his resignation, while at least one other Minister was believed to be considering resigning as well. On 19 December the Kuwait Trade Union Federation held a demonstration outside the Civil Service Ministry following a statement by Justice Minister Ahmed Al Mulaifi that strikes are prohibited and that international conventions which guarantee workers’ rights are not applicable to him. The statement was in response to strike action being undertaken by employees in the Justice Ministry itself. The workers had also complained over pressure on non-qualified expatriates to work in the ministry instead of citizens as well as issues relating to retirement. Unionists from the Oil Workers’ Union and Kuwait Oil Tankers Workers’ Union also attended the protests to show solidarity.

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