An unprecedented number of strikes and demonstrations erupted in Kuwait in recent weeks as public employees demand an improvement in economic conditions and salary increases.
Ministry of Justice employees and legal department staff members in several ministries and public institutions went on strike September 18th during work hours.
The Legal Workers Union suspended the strike until October after receiving promises its demands would be met, but 2,000 legal practitioners continued to strike, disrupting services in 52 public institutions. The Ministry of Justice referred 77 staff members for investigation and recruited workers of Arab nationalities to fill administrative positions.
The Ministry of Information formed an emergency team to ensure that radio and television broadcasts continue in case the workers' union carries out its threat to strike until a salary increase is approved.
On September 11th, Oil Minister Mohamed al-Busairi approved a significant salary increase for workers in the oil sector which prompted employees in other public sectors to threaten the government with strikes.
In an emergency meeting September 22nd, the Kuwaiti cabinet issued a statement presented by Dr. Mohamed Al-Busairi Oil Minister and Minister of State for National Assembly Affairs who condemned the strikes, describing them as "irresponsible". The council stated it respects public freedoms and the expression of opinion but not if it harms national interests, the country, or its citizens.
The cabinet instructed the Civil Service Bureau, the Ministry of Finance, and the General Organization for Social Insurance, to conduct a study on legal and economic considerations in co-operation with the Economic Advisory Committee to resolve all claims that do not conflict with development plans. The study will be completed within three months after it is commissioned.
Dr. Shamlan al-Essa, a political science professor at Kuwait University, told Al-Shorfa, that the strikes in various sectors in Kuwait are merely an indication of the level of comfort public sector employees are accustomed to. He said that the privileges and large salaries Kuwaitis obtain without a commitment to work in return, is the cause of the current pandemonium in all sectors.
"According to the law, public sector employees are not entitled to strike whenever they are dissatisfied with their situation, and the state has the right to deduct from an employee's salary for time missed while participating in such actions," he said.
Al-Essa said the government should move to deter such strikes.
"It is possible that meeting all the demands as a pretext to avoid what could happen next could cause the government's cumulative spending to soar, and this represents a major threat to the state," he said.
Al-Essa warned it would be a "mistake" to dissolve parliament again, saying that the only solution to combating corruption lies in effective law enforcement.
Al-Essa dismissed the possibility of "a revolution similar to what happened in other Arab countries".
Shoaib al-Muzairi, a representative in the National Assembly said, "What is happening is a revolution against corruption which permeates all sectors of the state."
He added, "The power of the symbols of corruption has exceeded the government's authority. This has plunged the country into a very dangerous period and the populace has started a revolution to fight corruption and demand its legitimate rights through demonstrations and strikes."
Al-Muzairi said that what is taking place should be geared to serve the interests of the state and the populace at the same time.
He said corruption is detrimental to government officials, and they have no choice but to work towards dissolving the cabinet and the National Assembly.
Tariq Al-Mutairi, head of the Kafi political movement which is also demanding the government's resignation, believes the government's failure to implement a uniform salary increase policy triggered the conflict because it led to considerable discrepancies in pay between sectors.
The oil workers' strike, which the government averted at the last minute, "was the straw that broke the camel's back. Approving the salary increase that oil sector employees were demanding was a disaster, and it encouraged everyone to follow the same path. Even if that trend ceases for the time being, it will resurface in two years", Al-Mutairi said.