What is your view on importing Cheap Labor?
This is a question that I don't have an answer. Everyone here knows my position on voluntary contracts, but here in Qatar and previously when I lived in Kuwait I've seen the good and bad when it comes to cheap labor. I've also seen the other side, having lived in Pakistan, where much of the cheap labor comes from, and seeing how completely desitute much of that population is. I'm going to paint with a little bit of broad brush here, but I promise not to over-generalize. I have several years of experience out here.
A great deal of what you may consider "exploitative" cheap labor is imported by the Arab governments, or by businesses contracted to work with the government. Some come to work at the oil refineries (a government monopoly), others work on roads, and others work as home builders. All are laborers. Most of the females in this skill level work as maids. This population mostly comes from Pakistan, India, Bangledesh, and Sri Lanka.
However, there is another class of cheap labor in Qatar, UAE, and Kuwait, and that is the cheap white collar labor. This group is made up mostly of Philipinos and Indians who do clerical work. They speak English and sometimes even Arabic. They are computer-literate, if not savvy. The females in this group usually hold equal position to the men.
Finally, there is another group, kind of an in-between group of food service, retail, medical assistance, etc.. made up of a mix of Philipinos, Indians, Lebanese, Syrains, Iranians, etc. The females in this group are usually nursies or private nannies. I get some benefit from this group as I have a maid that comes on a regular basis at a very cheap rate. I have inexpensive laundry services and if I so desired, I could hire a cook at a very low wage.
There are several things of interest going on here:
1. The cheapest laborers, outside of having difficult jobs, suffer plenty of abuse. Reports are rampant, and I have witnessed horrible abuse by Kuwaiti police officers on cheap labor myself. Unspeakable things.
2. Most clerical and customer service laborers are geniunely content here. I speak to them often and know several on a personal level. They miss home, as everyone does, but the money more than makes up for it. There is still occasional abuses at this level, but usually it's just an unreasonable or corrupt boss.
3. The law is not friendly to any of these groups. In the Arab world, in order to file a legal complaint against your boss, your boss must accompany you to the filing office. Worse yet, there is no legal protection for your between that time and the time your case is heard. In other words, there is nothing to prevent your boss from firing you the minute you walk out of the legal office. Upon termination, you have 30 days to leave the country so good luck sticking getting back for the court hearings.
4. Crime among laborers is practically non-existent. Most laborers are so terrified of having their visas revoked that they don't mess around. Also, the law is quite harsh if you get caught - though not as harsh as it used to be. Finally, most criminals don't want to work so few ever volunteer for such jobs. At first, it would seem that Al Qaeda types would flock to such jobs, in order to supplant themselves in pro-America countries in order to carry out attacks. The problem with that is these jobs require actual hard work. One thing I've learned about criminals in my lifetime is that they are allergic to hard work. Heh, why do you think they come to America on student visas?
5. As tough as the cheapest laborers have it, I've seen how they live back home. There is a reason the Arab countries are able to import them at such cheap prices. I remember from my time in Pakistan from 1999-2000 that cheap labor earned about $30/month, unemployment was rampant, and at least half the population lived at a savage level. About half the country had running water and electricity. Whatever aid was coming into that country never made it past the bureaucracy, and judging by the current plight of Pakistanis, I suspect that is still the case.
For all the good and bad of cheap labor, the system in the Middle East does seem to more beneficial to all parties than America's minimum wage laws. However, I must stress that any policy which encourages business to bring in LEGAL cheap labor, on visa status, should give those laborers enough legal rights to be protected from the kind of abuse that we see in the Middle East. On the flip side, taxpayers should not foot the bill for their medical care, education, or anything else. As my border patrol agent buddy noted, most of the people currently flowing across our borders have absolutely no interest in working. Maybe if they knew we were going to put their butts to work or send them packing, we'd get a different class of citizen.
These are just my experiences and thoughts on the subject. I welcome yours.
David in Qatar