Thursday , September 20 2018

Laborers’ rights: opportunities for violations are high

Kuwait ratified 19 ILO conventions, including seven of the eight fundamental conventions

This is the final part of a two-part series of articles on the status of migrant workers in Kuwait during the first third of the year issued in a report by Kuwait Society for Human Rights through the Unit of Monitoring and Following-up Workers Rights’ Issues. – Editor

■ On January 22, community and parliamentary backlash took place against the appointment of non-Kuwaitis to foreign missions and consulates of Kuwait, and the Foreign Affairs Committee announced including the Kuwaitization of embassies jobs on their agenda.

■ On January 23, a woman MP stated that the reason for the uneven employment opportunities for Kuwaitis is “the influx of expats in the state jobs,” noting that the Minister of Social Affairs ended the services of 4 expats.

■ On January 29, an MP asked the Minister of Health about the promotion of migrant workers during the last three years and asked for a list containing their names.

■ On January 31, a press release by the Parliamentary Job Replacement and Employment Crisis Committee addressed the educational institutions role in limiting employment and applying the replacement policy.

■ On February 14, the MP Abdulwahahb Al-Babiteen directed a question to all ministers regarding the appointment of expats as advisers, and asserted that non-Kuwaitis are receiving benefits along with salary such as travel tickets, housing allowance and health insurance.

■ On February 13, an MP stated, “The expats are such opportunistic bacteria.”

■ On March 25, a press release by the Parliamentary Job Replacement and Employment Crisis Committee stated that whoever monitors the foreign remittances of expats will definitely demand that the replacement policy be implemented immediately.

■ On March 30, an MP asked the Minister of Oil and the Minister of Electricity and Water about the non- Kuwaiti employees in Kuwait Petroleum Corporation and its companies, and the external tasks assigned to them, and demanded the disclosure of expats employees in the Petroleum Corporation and its affiliates sent to official missions and external training courses for the past three years.

■ On 24 April, the MP Omar al- Tabtabai asked the Minister of State for Housing Affairs and Minister of State for Service Affairs, Jenan Bushehri, about the Civil Aviation Technical Bureau contracting with foreign consultants, including the former Lebanese president of Civil Aviation and asked to be provided with the contract, its value and duration.

The MP also asked about the salaries of expats, their qualifications and the justification behind recruiting them. Kuwait has ratified 19 ILO Conventions, including seven of the eight fundamental conventions, which have given priority to international labor standards and are supposedly to guarantee the rights of workers in its domestic laws, but are based primarily on the recruitment of migrant workers under the sponsorship system. This system links labor visas to those who recruited them, which raises the chances of abuse and exploitation of labor.

In addition, it restricts the workers’ freedom and places them under the responsibility of the sponsors, which gives the sponsors the power to control the workers’ life in terms of renewing residence and moving to another work. Such system also gives the sponsors the mechanism of deporting the worker through absconding reports and provides the sponsors with facilitations to be a trader of residencies and a key contributor to the increase of marginal employment. The migrant labor in Kuwait operates according to a number of laws.

The workers of private and oil sectors are subject to Law No. (6) of 2010 on the Work in the Private Sector. This law grants many rights to the workers. During the reporting period, it was noticed that the law contains a number of gaps, such as the fact that it does not criminalize the violation of its clauses, e.g. seizing the passport with the sponsor; compliance with the number of work hours; financial entitlements; end of service benefits and the delay of the worker’s salary for seven days. However, the new amendments addressed these gaps and identified penalties in the same law for violators.

Yet, the law still does not contain a clause that grants the worker an annual increase in pay. As for domestic labor, they are included in the Kuwaiti Domestic Employment Law No. 68 of 2015. This sector tops the list of the highest jobs occupied by migrant workers, according to the statistics of the Public Authority for Civil Information, which quoted the word “servant” when referring to the domestic workers, which is necessarily a word with racist implications related to color and function.

The KSHR has called in previous human rights reports to replace the word “servant” with the word “domestic worker”, which the concerned bodies responded to. The workers in this sector possess a vital and important law that guarantees many of the worker’s rights.

However, it is noted that the length of work hours, which is 12 hours as a maximum, contains only hour for rest, but the long hours are not commensurate with the decision of the Ministry of Interior that the salaries of workers in this sector should be 60 dinars (About 200 USD) as a minimum. This is a major burden on the worker and has led to a number of problems, for example, the suspension of Indian domestic workers, and the requirement of the Government of India that the domestic worker’s salary should not be less than 75 dinars (about 250 USD). Director of Domestic Employment Department at the Ministry of Interior Mohammed Al-Ajmi had complained that the law prevented them from taking any punitive measures in order not to violate the provisions of the law. He also added that they wish to deposit the salaries of workers in this sector with banks, pointing out that the Central Bank and the Union of Banks strongly rejected that.

The KSHR has received many complaints from domestic workers. These complaints were similar in content, complaining about “long work hours without rest; working for long hours without pay; being prevented from annual leaves.” Domestic labor is subjected to many violations, sometimes amounting to slavery, torture, humiliation and rape, which has caused political problems between the Government of Kuwait and the Philippines in addition to a number of countries such as Sri Lanka, India and Ethiopia. Migrant workers in Kuwait are generally subjected to racist decisions, while receiving a large amount of accusations. Also, speeches of violence have spread over social media and other media outlets, and the responsible for such speeches are mostly members of the National Assembly or government officials. Meanwhile, workers in Kuwait and their families do not have the right to education in public schools. Kuwait has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Article 40 of the Kuwaiti Constitution, however, guarantees the right to education for Kuwaitis only.

During the reporting period, the following were monitored:

■ On January 3, the Research and Investigation Department in the General Department of Residency Affairs Investigation of the Ministry of Interior included the names of 46 workers in the most wanted list in preparation for their expulsion from the country. This came after the seizure of 9 fictitious companies and their sponsorships. This is monitored as a human offense because the worker has no fault that the company is fake.

■ On January 11, a member of the National Assembly proposed imposing fees for the expats driving license amounting to 1000 dinars, and 500 dinars for renewing the license annually. Furthermore, imposing fees on expats who possess more than one car registered in his name starting from 500 dinars at a cumulative rate and preventing renewal of the vehicle registration certificate for the expats if the age of the vehicle registered in his name is more than 10 years.

■ On February 3, The Legislative and Legal Affairs Committee of the National Assembly proposed a law on taxing foreign remittances for migrant workers.

■ On February 11, the Kuwaiti Union of Domestic Labor Offices demanded the government for the halt of renewing the Filipino employment residencies along the lines of the problems between the two countries.

■ On February 20, Major General Fahd al-Shawi, Undersecretary of Traffic Affairs at the Ministry of Interior, stated that a decision will be issued to prevent expatriates from owning more than one car, arguing that some of them have 60 to 70 cars and that one “domestic worker” owns five cars in his name, let alone that some expats have cars in their name but do not have a driving license.

■ On March 14, an MP called for the withdrawal of jobs occupied by non- Kuwaitis in the private sector and granting them to Kuwaitis, either by replacement or direct appointment, including Kuwait’s embassies abroad.

■ On March 25, bills were discussed, including the imposition of a tax or fees on foreign remittances of expats, in the presence of Finance Minister Nayef Al Hajraf and Governor of the Central Bank Mohammad Al-Hashel, with the aim of adding amounts ranging from 50 to 60 million dinars to the public budget of the State annually.

■ On March 31, an article published in Al-Anba Kuwaiti newspaper suggests that the Ministry of Interior stop all expats’ driving licenses without exception. The article added that, “They are then re-granted according to the law, and I am sure that half of the licenses granted to expats will become not legible.”

■ On April 28, oil officials stated that the KPC and its affiliates spent 18.3 million dinars during the fiscal year 2017/2018 for the cost of medical treatment for migrant workers in the oil sector and their families in Ahmadi Hospital, while the cost of treatment of migrants during the last five years in the oil sector amounted to 95 million dinars.

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