5 min

As I reflect on four years working in Iraq as an Iraqi American, I’ve come to a realization about certain sociocultural trends with regards to the workforce that are profoundly intriguing to me. There are some things I must express about Iraqi workers in Iraq.

It is my observation and strong belief that Iraqis are good workers.   They are honest, hard-working, optimistic dreamers who wish to create a life of freedom, independence, opportunity, and cultural acceptance for themselves and their families. Of course, not every Iraqi fits the bill, but to stereotype against an entire culture when there are only a handful of bad eggs is, in this day and age, baboonish.

The irony, however, is that Iraqi companies don’t hire Iraqis unless they can exploit them through poor working conditions, low pay, and unguaranteed contracts. Iraqi companies will further go on to claim that Iraqis have mastered the art of getting away with not doing any work, as if there is a secret society of manipulative Iraqis who share stories and tricks on how to take full advantage of Iraqi employers and abuse the work system.

That is to say, Iraqi companies have come across the handful of lazy Iraqi workers and have concluded through generalizations that it makes perfect sense for them to hire non-Iraqis instead. For example, an Iraqi super market owner will hire Indians instead of Iraqis. I caught up with such a fellow last week. My curiosity on this subject made for an interesting conversation.

Why aren’t you employing Iraqis?” I asked the supervisor.

His reply was…“why should I employee Iraqis?! The Iraqi employee will be calling off every a few days with an excuse to not come to work. One day, it’s his mother. The next day, it’s his son. Next week, it’s his mother in-law…until all the excuses run out of all family members. But then, he’ll start them again. Plus, I hear complaints all day from Iraqis. ‘This is too heavy’. ‘My back is stiff’. Or, I will see them being unproductive and hiding in some corner just to run the time. What’s worse is that they’ll make these excuses and do a half-ass job, but they still have the nerve to ask for a salary raise. I got so tired of them and started to employee Indians.

What about these Indians employees?” I followed up.

He continued, “These Indian guys will work 10 – 12 hours day…will work six days a week. They will never complain. And mostly, they will never call in sick with an excuse to not show up at work. Some of them are so dedicated that they come here early and leave late. In a way, I feel I can be free of preoccupations with their productivity because I hold their passport, which obliges them to remain productive and obedient.”

As the supervisor was talking, a few thoughts came to my mind.

Maybe there is some truth to what the supervisor is saying. Maybe because non-Iraqis are in an uncompromising situation, they must work diligently and strictly abide by all policies. They can’t take the chance of half-assing their jobs because they will fear being deported. Iraqis, on the other hand, can be a little bit more lax when working. Because of this, Iraqi companies realize this and therefore, prefer to hire non-Iraqis because they can exercise more power. Iraqi workers, likewise, can exercise more freedom working for non-Iraqi companies that may not seem as tyrannical to them.

The perception of this apparent feud has inevitably created a burgeoning hostility between Iraqi companies and Iraqi workers that is noticeably real.

The majority of Iraqis who worked for foreign companies, at least those whom I have spoken with, will eagerly accept a pay cut to work for an American company than to stay at home in Iraq.

A foreign company has outsourced the hiring process to an Iraqi subcontractor – basically acting in a capacity of an Iraqi labor force recruiter. It is in this class where I’ve formed relationships with several Iraqis, gaining insights on their career perspectives and surveying them on their interest in working for American companies.

I asked them why they feel working for a foreign company is most desirable. They had much to say, but here are their main points:

First, if they get sick and bring a doctor’s proof to management, which oftentimes is not even required, they will be treated with sympathy and will generally still get paid time off. This is not true in Iraq, for if they work for Iraqi companies and miss a day for being sick, their pay is cut.

Second, Iraqi workers don’t want to be hired by middlemen recruiters because they won’t get the benefits and guarantees that they would working for a foreign company directly.

Third, and most importantly, during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, the foreign companies understand the Iraqi culture. The way employers are lenient, understanding, and respectfully cautious with pregnant women about to go on maternity leave, or with their staffs during Christmas break, I have noticed, and these workers have confirmed, that supervisors don’t assign heavy-duty tasks during the month of Ramadan. In contrast, working for an Iraqi company, an employee requesting such a consideration will probably be on the receiving end of a callous managerial response such as, “You are fasting for God and for us!

As an Iraq-American who has both lived and worked in Iraq as well as America, I can say the following. Most Iraqis are NOT lazy. They are hardworking people. And Yes! They would rather work for a foreign company more than Iraqi company. This is because they feel more respected by foreign companies. They are treated better and have more a sense of individualism and work/life balance working for foreign companies.

How depressingly ironic it is that Iraq is finally a free country, yet Iraqis don’t want to work in Iraq and Iraqi companies don’t want to hire Iraqis?! This is quite a dilemma.


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