In recent months we have reported time and again about the way in which Kuwait is trying to bring expat numbers under control.
Numerous initiatives have sought to gently reduce the vast number of expat workers in Kuwait, thus providing additional employment opportunities for native Kuwaitis.
Additionally, at a time when oil revenues are falling, and the government is struggling to recover from a recent budget deficit reducing the number of well-paid expats in the nation should help cut costs.
Just recently, for example, we reported here at Expatriate Healthcare that Kuwait was planning to eliminate almost a quarter of their expat teacher workforce, especially for subjects where it was felt that there are enough native Kuwaiti teachers to fill the gaps.
Imagine our surprise recently, therefore, to learn about further changes to the benefits that expat teachers enjoy that could actually benefit them.
Typically expat teachers in Kuwait enjoy a moderate housing allowance on top of their salary and other benefits in order to offset the costs of living in this expensive country. Up until recently this has been fixed at 60 Kuwaiti Dinars for female teachers.
What has concerned the government is that male teachers have enjoyed considerably higher housing allowances; typically totalling KD 150 per month; more than twice that offered to women.
Now a court order has ruled that this difference is unconstitutional, and that such payments must be corrected. It has been proposed that the allowance for female teachers should be raised to the same as for male teachers as soon as possible.
Astonishingly, this proposed increase in benefits is actually intended to be retrospective, starting in April 2011. For long-term female expat teachers such a sum of money is an appealing prospect that will make a considerable difference to their finances. Additionally, of course, it is pleasing to see a greater measure of sexual equality being brought into the Kuwaiti workforce.
While this news seems initially like good news all round, a number of ministers have vocally opposed the new proposal, and threatened to take further action to try and prevent the changes.
There are two aspects which are causing disquiet. The first of these is that the Kuwaiti government budget is at present being stretched ever-thinner with many government bodies seeking to downsize and save money wherever possible. This new initiative really puts a wolf among the sheep, therefore, significantly increasing the benefits going to expat teachers at a most inopportune time.
The second issue comes in the form of inequality between expat and native teachers. It has been pointed out that native female teachers who are married to non-native men won’t be covered by the new legislation. Understandably this is causing a degree of friction among some politicians, who state that expat teachers shouldn’t be the recipients of benefits not enjoyed by the native Kuwaiti population.