Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Container Ships and Freight Trucks Delayed by Customs Dispute

Union Activity and Escalating State Wages Follow Arab Spring Movement
Shipping News Feature

KUWAIT – Trucks full of freight and container vessels are being delayed at land based border crossing and the nation’s seaports by a strike by Customs staff which started early today as Ministers tried to talk down the problem with promises that oil exports would continue unhindered and that talks were under way to resolve the situation. All import and export clearances have been suspended except essential medical and humanitarian supplies.

The situation arose following the announcement on Monday that public sector pay would be capped at 25% increases after unions had demanded up to 100%. It is expected that more unions may join the dispute including those at Kuwait Airways, which backed the last two day stoppage by Customs staff in October, with the Kuwait Trade Union Federation, the sole national union coordinating body, saying they will call for national two hour strikes in other state run employment from next Monday after demanding more equivalence in Government jobs with equal pay for similar roles in different departments.

The problems are caused by a combination of factors following the Arab Spring; union disputes have intensified and last month the governor of the central bank quit after 25 years in protest at the huge rise in government spending. State employment costs have reached 85% of oil revenues according to a statement late last year by the finance minister and these are supported by the current high oil price. On Monday the parliamentary session was suspended after banners were hung in parliament by lawmakers protesting at a decision over their storming of parliament last year demanding the Prime Minister step down.

The recent elections, called following the dissolution of parliament early, the fourth time in six years, brought the issue of corruption to the fore and the results serve only to confuse any Western onlooker. Political parties are illegal in Kuwait yet results show that Islamist supporters, Hadas (Muslim Brotherhood), Salafist and Shi-ite groupings, fared much better than in previous elections. The Government has said it will move to control prices of essentials in the wake of the protests and will announce a cap on private sector pay in the near future meanwhile movement across the nation’s borders remains constricted.

Photo: Port of Ash Shu'aybah