US probe finds embassy workers in Gulf exploited

Staff hired by US-funded contractors have passports confiscated, wages withheld, says state report
US probe finds embassy workers in Gulf exploited
The report polled 77 workers in six US embassies and consulates in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE
By Gavin Davids
Thu 10 Feb 2011 05:12 PM

Workers
hired by contractors at US embassies in the Gulf routinely have their passports
confiscated, their wages withheld and pay fees to secure their jobs, a US state
probe has found.

A poll of
77 workers in six US embassies and consulates in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and
the UAE found employees are charged up to a year’s salary in recruitment fees to
secure their job.

“Nearly 50 percent of workers said they paid fees totaling more
than six months’ salary… and 27 percent reported paying fees of more than one year’s
salary,” the report by the
Office of the Inspector General found. “[This] effectively resulted in
debt bondage at their destination.”

Some workers were recruited deceptively through abuse of
their lack of education, language and information, the report said.

The report
also flagged serious concerns about the living conditions of workers, who
comprised janitors, cooks, gardeners and security guards.

More than
70 percent of those polled said they lived in overcrowded, unsafe or unsanitary
conditions. Housing ranged from shared apartment buildings, to labour camps in
converted commercial lots.

More than a
quarter of workers lived in rooms with less personal space than a US minimum
security prison cell, the report said.

US-funded contractors
in all six agencies confiscated their employees’ passports – a practice that is
illegal in each of the four Gulf countries – while some withheld wages, or amended
salaries based on nationality, the investigation found.

In Saudi Arabia, cleaners from India received $213 a month,
while those from Bangladesh were paid $106.

Three of
the four embassies- in Abu Dhabi, Kuwait City and Muscat - agreed with the
overall findings of the investigation, the report said.

Riyadh, where
the US embassy spends more than $2m annually or gardening and cleaning
contracts, made no comment on the findings.

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