The Kuwaiti government is in the middle of a significant salary benchmarking exercise which may see the overall public sector pay bill rise, according to reports.

The Kuwait Times says an external provider has been working on a widespread study of government payrolls in the country, which will see new rules come into effect at the start of 2019.

Kuwait had more than 338,000 public sector employees at the last count, according to figures from the Central Statistical Bureau, around 250,000 of them Kuwaiti nationals. It accounts for around a fifth of all employees. More than half the public sector workforce in female and its annual payroll stands at US$50bn.

The latest exercise, carried out on conjunction with the Ministry of Finance and first begun around three years ago, is expected to focus on benchmarking the qualifications and experience of staff. The Kuwait Times said some salaries would be raised as a result, and no pay reductions were expected. It also suggested pay and incentives might be increased for those working outside traditional office environments.

The drive comes as the government expects to post positive financial news, with a forecast 25 per cent reduction in its budget deficit for the current fiscal year. Reports say the deficit for 2017-18 will be less than $20bn compared to around $26bn last year, thanks largely to a rise in non-oil revenues, which climbed 5 per cent this year.

The government says it is making strong progress in a drive to diversify its economy, while also reducing its reliance on foreign workers. Last year, it announced a ban on hiring expat graduates aged under 30.

But reforming the public sector has been a trickier task. Kuwait hit the headlines for the wrong reasons in 2017 when it announced it was prosecuting 38 state employees for using silicone fingertips to get round a new biometric scanning system which had been introduced to combat widespread absenteeism.

The measures required all employees to identify themselves with their fingerprints when they arrived at or left work each day.

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