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Wednesday, 12 June, 2002, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Moroccan jobless left adrift
Moroccans talking at a street corner
The Al-Najat jobs are the talk of street corners

It sounded too good to be true.

When Saed, 25, heard on the grapevine that Gulf-based Al-Najat Marine Shipping wanted to hire 30,000 Moroccans to work on cruise ships, it was a chance not to be missed.

With thousands of other young Moroccans, he filled out a form and travelled to Casablanca for a pre-employment medical check-up for which he was charged 900 dirhams - almost $80 and more than the weekly wage at his last job, as a car salesman.

There is simply no possibility that these jobs are out there."

David Cockroft, International Transport Workers' Federation
That was in April. Now Saed, along with thousands of other hopefuls nationwide, is on tenterhooks over whether the promised jobs exist.

He has heard it might be a scam.

"I have signed a contract. Do you think the company has to stand by the contract?" he asks anyone who looks knowledgeable.


The London-based International Transport Workers' Federation thinks the jobs are a mirage.

Federation general secretary David Cockroft, says: "There is simply no possibility that these jobs are out there."

Even before the downturn in the holiday cruise business after 11 September "there would only have been a maximum of 1,000 new jobs available on cruise ships", Mr Cockroft adds.

Another doubter is Moroccan union boss Noubir Amaoui who, when calling a general strike earlier this month, said that one of the triggers for the action was government spin over the Al-Najat job offer.

Political implications

Moroccan officials are standing by the scheme. If confirmed, it will prove an electoral bonanza ahead of the September parliamentary election.

Unemployment stands at 13%, official figures show, and is higher among educated young people in the towns.

World Bank estimates put it closer to 20%.

If the scheme proves a chimera, it will be a severe embarrassment.

Employment Minister Abbas al Fassi, who heads the veteran nationalist Istiqlal Party, has said the mass hiring was "transparent".

Government job agency Anapec co-ordinated the scheme nationwide, along with five Moroccan job agencies contracted by Al-Najat.

Many Al-Najat applicants say contacts inside the Istiqlal Party promised help with getting hired.

Key talks

Perhaps bad news for applicants is that Al-Najat a year ago told the Kenyan authorities it had 50,000 cruise-ship jobs on offer.

Uncertainties grew, and the Kenyans are still waiting to see the first recruits placed.

Anapec director Chafik Rached this week flew to the United Arab Emirates to clarify matters with Al-Najat.

The job placements "are going to be successful in a very short time", Al-Najat managing director Mohammed Ali Pasha told BBC News Online after meeting Mr Rached.

Although the Kenyan hirings have met hitches, thousands of Moroccans will be joining their ships by July 31, he said.

'Jumping ship'

Al-Najat promises $580 a month, with $100 extra for knowledge of English, for general duties on board cruisers.

Across the country, the jobs are the talk of pavement cafes and street corners.

Saed, quick at languages and eager for broader horizons, boasted to friends that he would jump ship in a Europe port.

He expected many work mates to do the same.

Employees of the Casablanca Sheraton thought their hotel experience would surely improve their chances.

Sinking feeling

In a low-income neighbourhood outside Fez, a bearded taxi-driver and father of three, who asks to be quoted only as Mohammed, says the employment minister's assurance "hasn't really set our minds at rest".

He and his wife clearly have a sinking feeling about the 900 dirhams paid for the medical test.

Casablanca's Dar Salam clinic processed 28,950 candidates on behalf of Al-Najat, with none of the fee going to the Emirates-based company, a spokesman said.

Al-Najat contracted to pay the local job agencies $100 for each applicant eventually hired, says one agency director, speaking under condition of anonymity.

The documents signed by candidates are not in fact 'contracts', but only applications for maritime visas.

Some Moroccan jobseekers have already lost out.

As rumours of a maritime El Dorado ran through towns and villages, entrepreneurial petty crooks stirred into action.

In the town of Azrou, police arrested four men who, posing as Al-Najat agents, swindled $3-4,000 per person out of hopeful job seekers.

The company's name means in Arabic "deliverance from danger".

See also:

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