Saturday, June 26, 2004

About economy.

A new phenomenon has recently appeared in Baghdad; some might see that it’s not a big deal but I think it has lots of meanings. This phenomenon made me stop to think again about the huge contradiction between what we see on the media and what I see on the ground. Everyone is talking about unemployment and how it increased after the war while I see that there’s a lot of exaggeration, that’s if it’s not the opposite.

All governmental offices and institutions have more employees than they did before the war as many of those who quit their jobs because of the low wages returned back to work after their wages witnessed great raises, besides, the basic services here are almost free, for example water, electricity, health care and phone bills are negligible. Example for that is that health care is free for children under 12 years and tooth filling costs 500 Iraqi Dinar (30cents) and you can fill your car with gasoline for a single dollar ( around 5 cents for a gallon of low octane gasoline and around 12.5 cents for a gallon of excellent high octane type) and a good meal in an acceptable restaurant costs no more than 2$.

All this added huge numbers of new employees to the governments offices and to private businesses that were forced to raise the average worker’s wage accordingly to compete with the public sector and as their income (business owners) has increased considerably they were able to afford that. For example simple construction worker’s daily wage increased from about 1 $ before the war to about 7 $ nowadays. Where as the specialized construction worker would make about 17 $ day compared with 4 $ before the war.

The new phenomenon that I want to talk about is bringing foreign workers to work in Iraq in private sector. I was talking with some of my friends about the improvements in many of Baghdad’s restaurants when one of my friends said: “Did you see (Happy Time) restaurant has done recently? “No”, we answered. He added, “they’ve hired a new staff mainly from India”. One of the friends commented, “this seems to be happening a lot recently. I found recently that my aunt has hired a maid from Philippine. I asked her about it and she directed me to a new founded work agency that is specialized in hiring foreigner workers”.

The next day me and this friend went to see this agency as his family needed a babysitter. It appeared that there were many of such agencies and most of them were concentrated in the fancy neighborhood Al-Karrada. We had similar agencies back in the 70s and early 80s but after Saddam’s glorious victories and achievements people from outside Iraq began to be strangely disinterested in coming to Iraq!

Its worth mentioning that the families that are hiring such workers are mainly from the upper middle ( like my friend's) and high class.

I found there that it has become very common that some restaurants and hotels are using work agencies to get workers from Seri Lanka, India, Pakistan and the Philippines. Moreover, many families in Baghdad started to hire maids through work agencies; the family would pay 1300 $ for the agency to cover the travel cost of the maid who will get a monthly payment of 100 $ at least.

The question is why don’t these people hire Iraqis instead? And why do these people (workers) risk their lives in coming to work in such a “chaotic area”? I think the answer to the 1st question is that most Iraqis can easily find a job that pays more than 100 $ with less effort and commitments. For example a kid (in summer vacation)who help in cleaning the streets and river banks get paid about 120$ by the city hall a month for about 5 hours work.

The answer to the 2nd question can be explained in 2 ways; there seems to be lots of job opportunities in Iraq as a result of private businesses' improvement and an increase in the life standard of a good proportion of Iraqis that made this process (importing workers) a real business and that enabled Iraqis to pay reasonable amounts of money to those workers that make it worthy the risk. The other answer might be that the security conditions in Iraq is not that scary to prevent workers from coming to Iraq and also that Iraq job market seems better for simple workers at least than that in India, Philippines, Seri Lanka and many other Asian countries!!

For years before the war the opposite was true, and no foreigner workers were able or interested to come to work in Iraq, and after all this "destruction and chaos and imminent civil war" this seems to have changed and Iraq has suddenly become a place that attracts many jobless people from different countries! Can anyone give me a reasonable explanation other than what I suggested?!

By Ali.

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