Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Job Agencies Not Working Out

Baghdad employment centres are exploiting job seekers wallets not their skills.
By Aws Al

As unemployment rises in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad's jobless are falling victim to unscrupulous agencies offering exciting employment prospects – for a price.


Jasim al Duleimi, a 28-year-old arts graduate, who has been out of work for a year and a half, was impressed when he turned up for an interview at an employment agency that had opened in his neighbourhood.


"I met the office manager, and she told me she had the perfect job for me that would pay 150,000 dinars (10,000 US dollars) a month," he said.


"I was ecstatic. I really wanted the job, so when the office manager asked me for 12,000 dinars in administration fees to set up a meeting with the manager of [a mobile phone company] in Baghdad, I borrowed the money from my sister."


Confident that the job was already his, al Duleimi arrived at the offices of the company to find it had never approached the employment agency that sent him, nor was it looking to hire any new employees.


"I've heard of … other people getting ripped off like this every day," he said.


Before the fall of Saddam Hussein there were only five employment agencies operating in the capital. Over the last year, that number has grown to around 25 as entrepreneurs try to capitalise on the number of people looking for work and the absence of trading regulations and business taxes.


But not all the scams are pulled by the agencies themselves.


Souad al Zawbaie, who runs the Salama employment agency, says her company was taken in by someone claiming to be from an oil company in the United Arab Emirates.


"A man calling himself Hajji Salwan said his company was opening a branch in Baghdad and needed a number of employees. We went through a selection process, he agreed to our suggestions and asked for a meeting with the employees. He said they should bring him their passports and 25,000 dinars each so he could get them visas.


“He took their money and documents and we never saw 'Mr Salwan' again."


While it was the job seekers that ended up out of pocket, business at the agency - which has also been approached by people pretending they work for the government - also suffered.


"Of course none of them trusted us after that. It put us in a really difficult position," said Zawbaie. "Now I check that anyone who approaches us is legitimate."


It looks like the boom may be over for many of Baghdad's job agencies as public scepticism about their effectiveness grows. A recent poll by a local radio station showed that 94 per cent of people who responded felt the agencies weren't any more successful finding jobs than they were.


Naqiya Mansoor, who works at a Baghdad recruitment centre, said the months after the fall of the regime were the busiest her company has ever seen, with 20 to 30 people registering every day.


However, she admits they managed to find jobs for less than 30 per cent of their clients. "We take about 10,000 dinars from anyone who comes to us looking for a job, so we were making about 300,000 dinars, or 200 dollars, a day. It was a great for us,” she said.


Challenges facing the Baghdad job seeker – and employment agency – are numerous. Even if both the agencies and the companies are genuine, there are employers to contend with whose recruitment policies leave much to be desired.


Mansoor recalls a conversation with the manager of a local company who was looking for two female workers – both of whom had to be pretty, "We sent over a number of candidates all of whom he turned down, then finally he did hire two of the more attractive females we sent over.


"They didn't even spend a full day there - both of them came straight round to our office, furiously angry, saying that it certainly wasn't their secretarial skills he was after."


Aws Al Timiemi is an IWPR trainee.