Kuwait oil workers strike makes austerity drive tricky for government

Business Monday 02/May/2016 13:42 PM
By: Times News Service
Kuwait oil workers strike makes austerity drive tricky for government

Kuwait: A three-day strike by oil workers in Kuwait last month over pay reforms shows the government faces considerable opposition as it prepares to push through painful and controversial cuts to longstanding welfare benefits.
Oil-exporting states around the Gulf are reducing subsidies for fuel, public utilities and food, and freezing or slowing the growth of public sector wages, as they try to curb big budget deficits caused by low oil prices.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain have all taken such steps in the past six months. But Kuwait has been slower to act; reforms were still being discussed in parliament last week and no timetable has been set.
In mid-March, finance Minister Anas Al Saleh said the cabinet had approved in principle a "repricing" of some commodities and public services, but he gave no details and did not mention a date for the changes.
One reason for the delay is that Kuwait has more of a history of industrial action than the rest of the Gulf. In recent years, brief work stoppages over pay and conditions have also hit Kuwait's national airline and the customs administration.
In 2012, thousands of Kuwaitis demonstrated repeatedly against a new electoral law which they said disadvantaged the opposition.
The result is that Kuwait's government is having a harder time imposing austerity policies than its counterparts, and the extent of those policies is still uncertain.
"The oil strike was a showdown between a welfare government and a civil society fearful that the government will solve its problem, resulting from a lack of planning, at its expense," said Shafeeq Ghabra, political science professor at Kuwait University.
"This strike shows that the government needs to have a major dialogue with civil society regarding economic as well political reform."