Sunday, January 2, 2011

No rest for working retirees

An elderly Iraqi man works at his shop in downtown Baghdad downtown making book covers. GLOBE PHOTO/Duraid Salman

The Kurdish Globe 
By Duraid Salman--Baghdad

Whether selling tea or driving taxis, the elderly must work to make ends meet 
The social insurance system leaves out the most vulnerable and puts others in tough situations--even those with retirement funds.

Many elderly retirees have returned to work in small businesses as financial difficulties have pushed them to ensure their families' incomes because retire salaries aren't cutting it, particularly in a costly city like Baghdad.

Although he retired 15 years ago, Qassim La'ibi, 62, pushes a cart on which he sells lablabi, a fast food made of boiled chickpeas and mostly favored by children. "I never had a moment to rest because I never wanted to be pitied; working is the best way to provide what we need," says La'ibi. His retiree salary of 450,000 Iraqi dinars (almost UD$380) for three months is too little to live on, he noted.

"A man shouldn't remain jobless no matter how old he is. He must be proud because of working so as to be able to give, not take," said La'ibi. He noted that others like him ought to work even small jobs in order to take care of family necessities.

Idan Abdullah could not find any better job befitting his age of 65 than to make and sell tea going out early mornings to a Baghdad market. He is obliged to work to take care of his grandchildren. "My son was killed in an explosion and left me a number of children I have to feed," said Abdullah, who appeared tired and shaky. "God bless them for they really help," Abdullah said, referring to a number of shopkeepers. "I cannot count on selling tea alone."

Help is not easy to come by for Sahib Ali, 66, who stated that "in such a difficult time, no one gives money easily." Driving a very old taxi, Ali said, "It seems I cannot find rest except in a tomb."

For those once were government employees, a poor retiree salary is all the life insurance found in Iraq. Such an opportunity is rare for many elderly people. Yet both parties continue working to live.

"Seeing an elderly person working has become a familiar scene in the country; it is not logical for the elderly to not have enough to live on," stated Murtadha Abdullah, a social researcher, calling on the government to commit to improvements in the life insurance system. "I passed all my life working as hard as a donkey. Now I am old and never got a bit of rest," said Khalid Mutar, 63. In a shop, he still makes cotton beds. "In this country, one never finds ease."

La'ibi concluded a tough day by saying that he feels grateful every evening he counts his sales. "Lablabi sells well and earns good enough money, thanks to God." 

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