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Halliburton Recruits 'Invisible' Asian Laborers to Construct U.S. Bases in Iraq

Tens of thousands of TCNs ('third country nationals') - put to work in horrible conditions - have helped set new records for the largest civilian workforce ever hired in support of a U.S. war.

 http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/26660/
 http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/101605C.shtml

Using Asia's Poor to Build U.S. Bases in Iraq

By David Phinney, CorpWatch  http://www.corpwatch.org/

Posted October 15, 2005.

Jing Soliman left his family in the Philippines for what sounded like a sure thing -- a job as a warehouse worker at Camp Anaconda in Iraq. His new employer, Prime Projects International (PPI) of Dubai, is a major, but low-profile, subcontractor to Halliburton's multi-billion-dollar deal with the Pentagon to provide support services to U.S. forces.

But Soliman wouldn't be making anything near the salaries -- starting $80,000 a year and often topping $100,000 -- that Halliburton's engineering and construction unit, Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) pays to the truck drivers, construction workers, office workers, and other laborers it recruits from the United States. Instead, the 35-year-old father of two anticipated $615 a month -- including overtime. For a 40-hour work week, that would be just over $3 an hour. But for the 12-hour day, seven-day week that Soliman says was standard for him and many contractor employees in Iraq, he actually earned $1.56 an hour.

Soliman planned to send most of his $7,380 annual pay home to his family in the Philippines, where the combined unemployment and underemployment rate tops 28 percent. The average annual income in Manila is $4,384, and the World Bank estimates that nearly half of the nation's 84 million people live on less than $2 a day.

"I am an ordinary man," said Soliman during a recent telephone interview from his home in Quezon City near Manila. "It was good money."

His ambitions, like many U.S. civilians working in Iraq, were modest: "I wanted to save up, buy a house and provide for my family," he says.

That simple dream drives hordes of low-wage workers like Soliman to travel to Iraq from more than three dozen countries. They are lured by jobs with companies working on projects led by Halliburton and other major U.S.-funded contractors hired to provide support services to the military and reconstruction efforts.

Called "third country nationals" (TCN) in contractor's parlance, they hail largely from impoverished Asian countries such as the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Pakistan, as well as from Turkey and countries in the Middle East. Once in Iraq, TCNs earn monthly salaries between $200 to $1,000 as truck drivers, construction workers, carpenters, warehousemen, laundry workers, cooks, accountants, beauticians, and similar blue-collar jobs.

Invisible Army of Cheap Labor

While the exact number of TCNs working in Iraq is uncertain, a rough estimate can be gleaned from Halliburton's own numbers, which indicate that TCNs make up 35,000 of KBR's 48,000 workers in Iraq employed under sweeping contract for military support. Known as the Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program (LOGCAP), this contract -- by far the largest in Iraq -- is now approaching the $15 billion mark. Citing security concerns, however, the Houston-headquartered company and several other major contractors declined to release detailed figures on the workforce that is estimated to be 100,000 or more.

This layered system not only cuts costs for the prime contractors, but also creates an untraceable trail of contracts that clouds the liability of companies and hinders comprehensive oversight by U.S. contract auditors. In April, the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of the U.S. Congress concluded that it is impossible to accurately estimate the total number of U.S. or foreign nationals working in Iraq.

The GAO's investigation was prompted by concerns in Congress about insurance costs that all U.S.-funded contractors and subcontractors in are obligated by law to carry for their workers -- costs which are then passed on to the government.

"It is difficult to aggregate reliable data," said the GAO report, "due in part to the large number of contractors and the multiple levels of subcontractors performing work in Iraq."

The menial wages paid to TCNs working for the regional contractors may be the most significant factor in the Pentagon's argument that outsourcing military support is far more cost-efficient for the U.S. taxpayer than using its own troops to maintain camps and feed its ranks.

But there is also a human cost to this savings. Numerous former American contractors returning home say they were shocked at conditions faced by this mostly invisible, but indispensable army of low-paid workers. TCNs frequently sleep in crowded trailers and wait outside in line in 100-degree-plus heat to eat "slop." Many are said to lack adequate medical care and put in hard labor seven days a week, 10 hours or more a day, for little or no overtime pay. Few receive proper workplace safety equipment or adequate protection from incoming mortars and rockets. When frequent gunfire, rockets and mortar shell from the ongoing conflict hits the sprawling military camps, American contractors slip on helmets and bulletproof vests, but TCNs are frequently shielded only by the shirts on their backs and the flimsy trailers they sleep in.

Adding to these dangers and hardships, some TCNs complain publicly about not being paid the wages they expected. Others say their employers use "bait-and-switch" tactics: recruiting them for jobs in Kuwait or other Middle Eastern countries and then pressuring them to go to Iraq. All of these problems have resulted in labor disputes, strikes and on-the-job protests.

While the exact number of TCNs working in Iraq is uncertain, a rough estimate can be gleaned from Halliburton's own numbers, which indicate that TCNs make up 35,000 of KBR's 48,000 workers in Iraq employed under sweeping contract for military support. Known as the Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program (LOGCAP), this contract -- by far the largest in Iraq -- is now approaching the $15 billion mark. Citing security concerns, however, the Houston-headquartered company and several other major contractors declined to release detailed figures on the workforce that is estimated to be 100,000 or more.

High Risks, Low Benefits

"They do all the grunt jobs," said former KBR supervisor Steve Powell, 54, from Azle, Texas. "But a lot of them are top notch."

Powell returned home from at Camp Diamondback in May this year. He was disillusioned, he said, with the high staff turnover of KBR employees and the treatment of TCNs that a KBR subcontractor from Turkey had hired as mechanics.

"The Filipinos were making $600 to $1,200 a month. That's good money for them, but there was tension from time to time. They sometimes thought they were doing all the work," says Powell who drove trucks for 30 years before working as a KBR truck maintenance foreman in Iraq for a year for $6,000 to $8,000 a month. "We weren't supposed to get our hands dirty."

The TCNs not only do much of the dirty work, but, like others working for the U.S. military, risk and sometimes lose their lives. Many are killed in mortar attacks; some are shot. Others have been taken hostage before meeting their death. In particularly gruesome set of murders on August 30, 2004, the captors of 12 Nepalese cooks and cleaners working for a Jordanian construction company beheaded one worker and posted a video of the execution on the Internet with the message: "We have carried out the sentence of God against 12 Nepalese who came from their country to fight the Muslims and to serve the Jews and the Christians . . . believing in Buddha as their God."

The murders led Kathmandu to bar its citizens from working in Iraq, although companies doing business there continue to employ Nepalese workers.

The Pentagon keeps no comprehensive record of TCN casualties. But the Georgia-based nonprofit, Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, estimates that TCNs make up more than 100 of the estimated 269 civilian fatalities. The number of unreported fatalities could be much higher, while unreported and life-altering injuries are legion.

Soliman was one TCN who barely escaped death on the night of May 11, 2004, when his living trailer at Camp Anaconda was blown apart by a bomb attack. Sardonically dubbed "Mortaritaville," the camp sits 42 miles north of Baghdad. Some 17,000 US soldiers and thousands of contractors have dug into the former Iraqi airbase for a long-term occupation.

Three others were injured along with Soliman that night. One roommate, 25-year-old fuel pump attendant Raymund Natividad, was killed. Soliman flew home to the Philippines in a wheelchair days later because he wanted medical treatment in his own country. But even after surgery and skin grafts, he sometimes feels nagging pain in his leg, he says. Doctors tell Soliman he will walk with a piece of shrapnel lodged in his left leg for the rest of his life.

"It was too deep" to remove, he explains.

The attack ignited shock waves of fear among the 1,300 Filipino workers at Camp Anaconda. Some 600 PPI employees immediately quit over safety concerns. "Filipinos don't want to work anymore in the mess halls, laundry and fuel depot," a Filipino embassy official in Baghdad said at the time. "There's a paralysis of work."

By mid-July, 2004, the Philippines would resign from the "Coalition of the Willing" and withdraw its modest military presence of 43 soldiers and eight policemen from Iraq one month earlier than scheduled. The precipitating event was a threat by Iraqi militias to behead Filipino hostage Angelo de la Cruz, a 46-year-old truck driver for the Saudi Arabian Trading and Construction Company. One day after the withdrawal, his captors released the father of eight. He returned home to the storm of media attention hailing his safe return and offers of a free home and scholarships for the children.

Only fleeting headlines in Manila greeted Soliman's homecoming just months earlier. Now jobless, he speaks fondly of the U.S. troops to whom, he says, he was forbidden to speak to by his company supervisors at PPI.

"The Army treated us like friends," he said, boasting of a certificate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded him in recognition of his service as a warehouse worker who handled and received food supplies for the camp.

His memories of PPI are less congenial. His managers were foul-mouthed and verbally abusive and lunches served on the job sites were unfit to eat, Soliman said. PPI restricted employees to two 5-minute phone calls home a month and deducted the cost from their paychecks.

"They were $10 more expensive than at the PX (the retail store on the military base), but if they see you making a call at another location, they would send you home," Salomon said.

A number of former KBR supervisors say they don't know why TCNs continue working in Iraq when they face much more brutal working conditions and hours than what their American and European co-workers would tolerate.

"TCNs had a lot of problems with overtime and things," recalls Sharon Reynolds of Kirbyville, Texas. "I remember one time that they didn't get paid for four months."

The former KBR administrator, who spent 11 months in Iraq until April, says she was responsible for processing time sheets for 665 TCNs employed by PPI at Camp Victory near Baghdad. The 14,000 troops and the American contractors based at this former palace for Saddam Hussein have use of an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a manmade lake preserved for special events and fishing.

But TCNs have to make do with far less. "They don't get sick pay and if PPI had insurance, they sure didn't talk about it much," Reynolds recalls. "TCNs had a lot of problems with overtime and things ... I had to go to bat for them to get shoes and proper clothing,"

As for living conditions, TCNs "ate outside in 140 degree heat," she says. American contractors and U.S. troops ate at the air-conditioned Pegasus Dining Facility featuring a short-order grill, salad, pizza, sandwich and ice cream bars under the KBR logistics contract.

"TCNs had to stand in line with plates and were served something like be curry and fish heads from big old pots," Reynolds says incredulously. "It looked like a concentration camp,"

And even when it came to basic safety, the TCNs faced a double standard. "They didn't have personal protection equipment to wear when there was an alert," Reynolds said. "Here we are walking around with helmets and vests because of an alert and they are just looking at us wondering what's going on."

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see also:

14 U.S. Military Bases Under Construction In Iraq
 http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2004/05/288657.shtml

homepage: homepage: http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/26660/
address: address: CorpWatch, via AlterNet and t r u t h o u t

the bizzarre and unexplainable logic of corporate multinationals... 16.Oct.2005 18:48

this thing here

there's a massive force of unemployed labor right there in iraq. for some strange reason, they're called iraqis. anyways, these people, these "iraqi's" as they're called, want to work. many of of them join "terrorist" groups due to massive unemployment. but no. instead of hiring iraqis, halliburton wants to ship their labor in from countries thousands of miles away, and then treat them like shit.

sort of like hiring the chinese to build the things jobless and homeless americans can build.

oh sure. it makes absolute economic sense. but that's the problem. when capitalism and economics is the omnipotent 21st. century religion, look at how unsensable and completely insane HUMAN life becomes...

Cheney is God 16.Oct.2005 21:52

Cletis

Cheney is my personal God. He rules and is keeping us safe from the French