Blood, Sweat & Tears

Asia's Poor Build US Bases in Iraq

| October 6, 2005

The large-scale military operation in Iraq requires an equally massive workforce to support it. A big part of that laboring legion consists of civilian workers from poor Asian countries like the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, as well as from Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries. Contractors hire these 'third country nationals' (TCNs) to do the grunt jobs on bases. There, they face harsh working conditions plus the risks of living in a war zone reports David Phinney for CorpWatch .

As carpenters, cooks, beauticians, truck drivers, laundry workers, TCNs often toil seven days a week, 10 hours or more a day, without overtime pay. Few are given proper workplace safety equipment, and it's said that many aren't receiving sufficient health care. They frequently sleep in crowded trailers and wait on line in the desert heat to eat 'slop.' When gunfire, rockets, and mortar shells hit their camps, most TCNs are left unprotected, while American support staff don helmets and flak jackets.

The majority of the estimated 100,000 TCNs work for smaller, Middle East-based subcontracting companies hired by larger contractors like Halliburton and Bechtel. Recruiters regularly use 'bait-and-switch' tactics, luring workers with jobs in Kuwait or other Middle Eastern countries, then coercing them to go to Iraq. False contracts and poor on-the-job conditions have caused labor disputes, strikes, and on-the-job protests. The unfair practices and scores of worker casualties have prompted officials in countries like Nepal and the Philippines to bar their citizens from working in Iraq. Still, many flock there seeking jobs and 'good money.'
-- Archie Ingersoll

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