Guest workers have played an integral role in the Gulf since the 1970s where the demographic changes accompanying these labor flows occurred at an extraordinarily rapid pace. The region’s aggregate population has increased more than tenfold in a little over half a century, but in no other region of the world do citizens comprise such a small proportion of the population. While this ‘demographic imbalance’ makes the Gulf unique, what differentiates it is not its economic and demographic expansion through migration but the degree to which the region’s governments have excluded foreign workers from being integrated into the national polity. This exclusion of foreign workers is a result of a conscious policy.
Labor migration to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are mostly governed under a sponsorship system known as Kafala. Migrant workers require a national sponsor (called Kafeel) and are only allowed to work for the visa sponsoring firm. The workers must obtain a no-objection certificate from the sponsor to resign and have to leave the country upon termination of the usual 2 to 3 years’ contract before being allowed to commence a new contract under a new sponsor. Tied to the sponsor, the migrants become immobile within the internal labor market for the duration of the contract. Consequently the sponsors benefit from non-competitive environments where they extract substantial economic rents from migrant workers at the expense of inducing significant inefficiencies in production.
The Kafeels pay workers an income above the wage in their country of origin and obtain economic rents equal to the difference between such earnings and the net marginal return from employing the migrant worker. Migrant workers are paid the initial nominal wage throughout the entire contractual period. They are even made to accept lower wages than contracted initially. Immobilized by labor restrictions, workers cannot command a higher wage even when there is demand for their services by rival firms willing to hire them in order to avoid the cost of hiring from abroad. Kafeels have also found other ways of extracting rents in recent decades by indulging in visa trading. They allow their names to be used to sponsor foreign workers in exchange for monetary gains.
Arguably, rents per-se should not directly create adverse effects because they are essentially redistributive transfers. Earnings paid to migrants are sufficient to motivate them to migrate. The migrants do not leave. But this view is over-simplistic. The combination of short contracts, flat wages, and lack of internal mobility kills the incentives for migrant workers to exercise higher effort levels in production and engage in activities that enhance their human capital. Any productivity gain would go to the sponsor in the form of rents. The system provides incentives to entrepreneurs to concentrate on low-skills, labor-intensive activities where the extraction of economic rents is easier. Such sponsor-worker behavior explains for instance why despite the massive investments in Dubai, the economy-wide efficiency levels (average labor productivity) have not improved in the last two decades while in Hong Kong, they doubled and in Singapore quadrupled.
Lessons on Governance from Bangladesh’s Garment Industry
One year ago today, in the outskirts of Bangladesh’s capital city, an eight-story garment factory collapsed of its own weight, killing 1,130 young workers and injuring thousands more. The ghastly photos of bodies trapped in the Rana Plaza wreckage provoked outrage in the wealthy world, targeted largely at global retailers who purchased garments there. North American and European consumers called for measures to ensure safe conditions and humane treatment for Bangladeshi garment workers, mostly young women from poor families in remote rural areas. Many called for a boycott of the big-box retailers and of the Bangladeshi products they sell.
I had just moved from Bangladesh to Europe at the time, and my advice to friends who asked was: “Go ahead and buy those skinny jeans or that tank top if you want. It’s the right thing to do for Bangladesh and its young workers.”
Raul is short, skinny and has an enormous smile. Looking at him, it was hard to believe that this fifteen-year-old had long been feared in his community as a gang leader and had been the author of horrible crimes in Colonia Santa Marta in El Salvador.
Learning from a Social Accountability Pilot in the Mining Sector
The Aynak copper mine in the Mohammad Agha district in Logar province is being developed as one of “resource corridors.” These corridors will connect communities with the benefits of mineral resources and infrastructure which will provide over 10,000 estimated jobs and economic growth in Afghanistan.
In facilitating community participation to make the most of the potential growth opportunity, the World Bank supported the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum (MoMP) pilot a small social accountability project in Aynak, to bridge trust between MoMP and affected communities by making a grievance redress mechanism (GRM) work. GRM is a feedback mechanism based on two-way communication, in which the government takes action or shares information based on community feedback.
The Aynak mine development directly affected 62 families in two villages who had to be relocated. The MoMP prepared a resettlement action plan (RAP), which laid out compensation for these affected families and outlined the GRM, including setting up of the district-level grievance handling committee to address resettlement related complaints. Initially, there was no representation in the committee from two communities, and they were not clear on their roles.
The social accountability pilot supported community mobilization, training on entitlements and GRM, and election of Community Development Council (CDC), following the procedure set by the National Solidary Project (NSP) implemented by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development. These activities were facilitated by a civil society organization (CSO), the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which had a long-established presence in Mohammad Agha district and was also a NSP facilitating partner in the district.
In recent years, much has been written about the benefits of teacher incentive schemes for improving education in both developed and developing countries, but little is known about teachers’ opinions of incentives. Teachers’ opinions could vary as widely as the types of incentive schemes, since the schemes themselves can be as different as apples and oranges: differing in terms of what behavior is rewarded, whether an individual teacher or group of teachers is rewarded, and whether or not the incentive involves competition. Theoretically, teacher incentives motivate teacher behaviors that improve student learning and reward teachers who demonstrate desired behaviors or whose students show improved learning. But the empirical literature – especially from developing countries—is far from conclusive regarding these effects. Moreover, some research suggests that extrinsic rewards, such as salary bonuses, actually reduce motivation rather than stimulate it.
The latest macroeconomic data released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on April 18 suggest that China’s economic growth has moderated in the first quarter of 2014. GDP growth has decelerated from 7.7 percent (year-over-year) in the last quarter of 2013 to 7.4 percent (year-over-year) in the first quarter of 2014.
On a sequential basis, the quarter-on-quarter seasonally adjusted growth slowed from 1.7 percent in Q4 last year to 1.4 percent in Q1 2014.
The deceleration in the first quarter of this year is in line with World Bank expectations (see our latest East Asia Economic Update) (Figure1).
Figure 1: Official growth data on the demand side reflect subdued export growth and a moderation in investment growth. Consumption led growth in the first quarter of 2014, contributing 5.7 percentage points to growth, followed by investment, contributing 3.1 percentage points. Net exports dragged down growth by 1.4 percentage points.
Many economists speculate that the weakening trend in growth may put more pressure on the government to implement more and stronger growth supportive fiscal and monetary policies, following the stimulus measures unveiled recently that include accelerated expenditures on railway construction and social housing, as well as tax breaks for small businesses.
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A commuter in Bogotá, Colombia
This situation points to one of the toughest challenges faced by public transport systems: how to reconcile financial sustainability and social inclusion? On the one hand, if fares do not cover operational costs, systems need subsidies to survive, which can pose serious financial and political risks. In some cases, transport systems operating with inadequate financial resources may experience system deterioration, safety problems and service curtailment. On the other hand, if fares are set to reflect the real price of transport services so that operators can recoup their costs without subsidies, then the poor are often priced out. This is exactly the problem that Bogotá is currently struggling with, despite its well-deserved reputation for innovation and excellence in public transport: fares of its state-of-the-art Transmilenio Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system are pegged at cost-recovery levels that may price out many of the city’s poorest. Recent studies show that the lowest income households in Bogotá (socioeconomic strata 1, 2, 3 according to the local classification) are already devoting 20-30% of their total income to transportation, spending more than US$2 daily. The situation may be even worse when Bogota’s city-wide public transit reform (the Integrated Public Transport System or SITP) is fully implemented, as bus drivers, with the adoption of smart cards, may no longer be able to offer unofficial discounts to passengers at their discretion, a common practice in the traditional system.
Whatever your views of migration, a consensus ought to be possible on one thing: if migrants do send money home, as much as possible of the hard-earned dollars that they send should actually get there, to be spent on putting feeding the kids, putting them through school or even having a bit of fun (that’s allowed too).
But according to some excellent new research by the ODI, one in eight dollars remitted to Africa is creamed off by intermediaries – a much higher level than for other regions. They launched the report at a meeting in London last week, and the high preponderance of Africans at the launch bore witness to the anger this level of rent-seeking arouses.
A new book by Puja Dutta, Rinku Murgai, Martin Ravallion, and Dominique van de Walle looks at how successful India’s 2005 National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has been in creating 100 days of wage employment per year to all rural households whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work in public works projects at a stipulated minimum wage. The bulk of the study focuses on the scheme’s performance in one of India’s poorest states, Bihar. There the scheme seems to be falling well short of its potential impact on poverty. Workers are not getting all the work they want and they are not getting the full wages due. Many report that they had to give up some other income-earning activity when they took up work. The unmet demand for work is the single most important policy-relevant factor in accounting for the gap between actual performance and the scheme’s potential impact on poverty. The book suggests that supply-side constraints must be addressed in addition to raising public awareness, and identifies a number of specific supply-side constraints to work, including poor implementation capacity, weak financial management and monitoring systems.