November 02, 2005

Asian Workers Earn $1.56 an hour from Halliburton Sub-Contractor in Iraq

Poor Asians are prime targets for American contractors working in Iraq. Corporate Watch exposes this "invisible army of cheap labor" in a piece that reveals, among other things:

Called “third country nationals” (TCN) in contractor’s parlance, they hail largely from impoverished Asian countries such as the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Pakistan, as well as from Turkey and countries in the Middle East. Once in Iraq, TCNs earn monthly salaries between $200 to $1,000 as truck drivers, construction workers, carpenters, warehousemen, laundry workers, cooks, accountants, beauticians, and similar blue-collar jobs.

One Philippino 35-year-old father of two, hired as a warehouse worker, expected $615 a month – including overtime for a 40-hour work week -- in other words, just over $3 an hour. But because he works 12-hour days, seven-days a week he actually earns $1.56 an hour. And even other workers complain of "bait-and-switch" tactics used by some contractors where the workers are told one thing about their pay before they come and then discover it is lower once they arrive.

There are those who make the point that these workers would otherwise not be employed. And that is true. But it does not excuse exploitation and lies. And there is additional "cost" to these workers for their employment in their living conditions.

Numerous former American contractors returning home say they were shocked at conditions faced by this mostly invisible, but indispensable army of low-paid workers. TCNs frequently sleep in crowded trailers and wait outside in line in 100 degree plus heat to eat “slop.” Many are said to lack adequate medical care and put in hard labor seven days a week, 10 hours or more a day, for little or no overtime pay. Few receive proper workplace safety equipment or adequate protection from incoming mortars and rockets.

Isn't it curious how the people who are so indispensable to our lives -- the cooks, the waiters, janitors, laundry workers, the beauticians, warehouse workers, dishwashers -- are paid, housed, and cared for poorly? Why is that? If these people are so indispensable to our lives, why do we treat them like lepers?

While we need to investigate the lies that lead us in to this war (and Harry Reid's action yesterday was a move in the right direction), we also need to demand that our Congress closely monitors and corrects the ongoing abuses among American contractors and their subcontractors in Iraq.

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