KUWAIT: A worker welds at a metal workshop in this file photo. – Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: A severe shortage of workers in Kuwait is affecting companies and the job market, especially in the services sector. According to a human resources manager, because of the high demand for manpower, many small and large companies are now paying higher salaries to workers compared to pre-pandemic times. “Nowadays, hiring people locally is very difficult for many companies in Kuwait, but it’s a great time for workers, because those getting a salary of KD 150 before are now being offered KD 250-300,” Julie Gayon said.

According to official figures, the total number of workers in the labor market was 1,536,033 in the private sector and 411,464 in the public sector until the end of March. A labor market report found nearly 200,000 expatriates left Kuwait in one year since March 2020. Meanwhile, more than 67,800 expats left Kuwait in the first quarter of 2021, according to a government report.

“There are too many vacancies and too few applicants. Companies are telling me to provide them with only a few workers, but we can’t find anyone. We have a high demand for restaurant workers, but we cannot supply the manpower easily,” Gayon said. Besides domestic helpers, demand for workers continues to grow in the hospitality, health and retail sectors.

Last week, Kuwait reopened entry visas (commercial visit visas and work permits) for foreigners to work in activities related to food security in the country. The decision, effective immediately, covers the following activities: Farms, restaurants, catering and bakeries, fishing and fish sale, shepherding and dairy production, foodstuff factories, suppliers and supermarkets, and water and soft drink bottling companies.

But several manpower agencies told Kuwait Times that the ban hasn’t been lifted yet. “We tried already, but the ministry said they are prioritizing healthcare workers for now. I don’t know when they are going to start issuing visas,” officials at manpower and recruitment agencies said. “We have several people ready to be deployed from the Philippines, but visa applications are still stalled. The ministry people are saying they’re not ready. We are eagerly waiting for the approval,” a recruitment officer added.

Even some private hospitals and clinics are complaining of a shortage of staff. “We are exhausted, but we cannot complain, since patients are our number one priority rather than ourselves. We don’t get days off, we are overworked, and are prevented by the management to take annual leave too,” a nurse at a private hospital told Kuwait Times.

Rico Cinco, who owns two restaurants in Salmiya, said he has been waiting for the reopening of visas for restaurant workers for nearly two years now. “I needed people to work at my restaurants even before the pandemic. While waiting for the reopening of visas, I work from the kitchen to the dining area to help my staff. I hope the government meets our need for manpower,” he said.

Hypermarkets in some areas of Kuwait are even accepting workers on domestic visas. “We have no choice. We need people, so we hire domestic helpers although it’s illegal,” a manager of a hypermarket told Kuwait Times. Shops and garages are also short of workers. “I hope everything will be okay by next year; if not, I will have to close my business. I need people, but they demand high salaries,” a garage owner in Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh said.

But not all sectors are in demand, as many companies affected by the coronavirus pandemic are laying off workers. “We are still in bad shape. If we want to keep our jobs, we should be ready to accept salary cuts or be terminated. There are no new projects yet,” an engineer told Kuwait Times.