Who Will Solve Problems of Workers? [Archives:2001/50/Reportage]

December 10 2001

Abdulhakim Hashim
Awatef al-Shargabi
Haraj is the local name for markets where secondhand products are sold; however, there is a new kind of Haraj where workers stand in certain streets in the major cities looking for work on a daily basis. Mostly, contractors come to these places and pick up some of these laborers to work for them with payment on a daily basis. One of the most distinct characteristics of these markets is that it begins in early morning and closes at the time of sunset; however, some of these markets stay open until late hours. In this current survey, we tried to spotlight these markets from different perspectives:
Mr. Mohammed Ahmed Nassir, 27, said that he is married and has six children living in his hometown. Mohammed added that he goes to work, which takes most of his time, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mohammed told us that he is a plumber who returned from Saudi Arabia in the wake of the Gulf crisis. The daily wage of a plumber like Mohammed is YR 700 per day, and he only sends YR 1000 a month to his family. “We live a desperate life, to the extent that my friend resorts to garbage cans to feed himself, as for most times he has not a penny, particularly amid this endurable recession of the labor market,” Mohammed added.
Hanni Mansur, 13, said that he dropped out from school at the request of his mother due the difficult living conditions of his family. He said, Actually, I hope to go back to school, but where can one provide for his living expenses.
Abdula Saleh from Beida said that he works for a daily wage, but currently there is no sufficient work, as he can barely earn YR 1000 every five days. Actually, I have applied to many construction companies, but to no avail. I always stay at ‘lukanda’ pension, and if I don’t get money I sleep on the pavement.
Amid crowds we could see a young man who approached us and said that he is a university graduate who had applied for many jobs but was always rejected, while the expatriate Somali and Ethiopian applicants in most cases were accepted. He said, Despite my higher education I couldn’t find a job, thus my brother instructed me to be a stone-layer.
Broadly, many reports state that unemployment has taken a turn for the worse since the beginning of the 1990s, as the number of unemployed people accounted for 9% of the total labor force in 1994. According to World Bank statistics, 30% to 40% of the labor force are graduates of higher education, including 69% in the rural areas.
Yahya Ahmed from the City of Dhamar, who is married and has one child, said that he had finished high school but couldn’t join university due to financial reasons. Yahya complains of the scarcity of works nowadays, as he hardly works one or two days a week if he is lucky. Moreover, he has applied to many companies but is always rejected because these companies prefer foreigners who have higher education. Finally, Mohammed Ahmed al-Humaiqani, who returned from Saudi Arabia after the Gulf crisis, said that he has seven children and cannot even provide them with food. Al-Humaiqani expressed his wish to go back to Saudi Arabia, but unfortunately could not afford the expense of a work visa, which costs US $3,000.
It is evident that the reasons behind this phenomenon are shocking figures forcing people to sell their efforts cheaply in such a humiliating manner, as statistics show that the rate of poverty in Yemen soared from 19.1% in 1992 to 51.2% in 1997. In other words, the number of poor people rose from roughly 3.2 million to 9 million. Furthermore, the number of extremely poor people has risen from 1.5 million to 4 million, as the Human Development Report confirms that Yemen has no clear strategy for fighting poverty. The Social Care Program allocated YR 1 billion in 1997. While part of this money was disbursed to improve the quality of life of those under poverty line, the real budget required for this program is YR 50 billion.
Eventually, the current situation needs serious tackling on the part of all concerned authorities in ways that help the development of this country. Yet, the figures stated above are a herald of more suffering.