Friday, December 02, 2005

Fiddy Cent

What is the hourly wage paid to KBR food staff in Iraq?

The U.S. military has paid Halliburton subsidiary KBR about $12 billion so far for so-called logistics support to U.S. military personnel in Iraq, the largest contract of its kind ever. Around 80,000 troops are served meals at dining facilities every day under the contract -- the other 60,000 or so fend for themselves in field kitchens or by eating military issue 'Meals Ready to Eat.'

KBR in turn hires that work out entirely to subcontractors whose job it is to recruit, transport, house, feed and pay 'third-country' nationals to stock, prepare, serve and clean up at the dining facilities at 43 bases across Iraq.

Those workers are recruited from countries with already low wages, where jobs are scarce. And as pressure to keep the logistics contract cost down has increased, subcontractors have moved from country to country in search of cheaper labor markets.

That is what brought around 770 workers from Sierra Leone, Africa, to Iraq in July to work for ESS Support Services Worldwide, A British-based food service company specializing, according to its Web site, in 'remote site, defense and off-shore locations.'

Most of the workers are deemed unskilled and work seven days a week for 12 hours a day, according to their contracts, one of which was obtained by United Press International. In practice, workers said in interviews, most only work six days a week.

There is no provision for sick leave. Any employee who threatens a strike or attempts to organize is subject to immediate dismissal and the employee required to pay for his return plane ticket.

For this they are paid $150 a month, roughly 45 cents an hour.

Salaries are deposited in bank accounts in Africa so the money is available to the workers` families.

The workers also get a $40 a month cash allowance on top of that, but the contract states the money is a gift, and the amount discretionary and may be eliminated. Their housing -- three to a standard size trailer -- laundry, food and uniforms are provided free.

Employees are prohibited from discussing the contract and 'ESS internal issues or complaints' with anyone outside the company, including the military and media. A copy of the contract was provided to UPI by an ESS employee via e-mail, with the assistance of a U.S. military officer. The worker quit Iraq and has now returned to Sierra Leone.

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