“The Domestic Workers Department, as well as other concerned government and private institutions, have intensified their efforts to educate citizens and expatriates about the new Domestic Workers Law. The government has started implementing the law which has been translated into five languages and distributed to the public,” says head of the department Mohammed Hamad Al-Azmi. In an exclusive interview with the Arab Times, Al-Azmi explained how the department works in line with the new Domestic Workers Law. He also stressed the need to protect the rights of both the employers and employees in accordance with the law. Following is the full text of the interview: Question: Kindly explain the organizational structure of the department. Is there any plan to develop this structure? Answer: I must apologize as I cannot answer this question due to restriction on publishing such information for security reasons.
Q: How many domestic labor recruitment offices are currently operating in the country?
A: The number of domestic labor recruitment offices now stands at 295.
Q: What laws govern these offices? What are the penalties imposed on those proven to have violated the law and methods of implementation?
A: Domestic Workers Law number 68/2015 regulates the work of domestic labor recruitment offices. The law is executed through ministerial decision numbers 2164/2016 and 2302/ 2016. Punishments include the following:
■ Cancellation of the license in accordance with Article 25.
■ Suspension of the license in accordance with Article 16 of ministerial decision number 2194/2016 which stipulates three months suspension if: a. An office, company or one of its branches fails to update its information in the Domestic Workers Department upon the latter’s request, unless there is a valid reason. b. An office, company or one of its branches does not refer a domestic worker to an employer (sponsor) within two hours of the worker’s arrival in the country unless there is an impediment. In case of an impediment, the office must inform the department immediately. c. An office, company or one of its branches does not receive a domestic worker upon arrival in the country or delays doing so without a valid reason. d. An office, company or one of its branches deals with a recalled domestic worker or returned by another sponsor. e. An office, company or one of its branches signed an employment contract that contravenes the contract approved by the department.
Q: According to the previous law, the sponsor is allowed to return a domestic worker within three months from the date of recruitment if the latter cannot work. What does the new law say in this regard?
A: The new law stipulates a longer probation period – six months. In such cases, the concerned domestic labor recruitment office should return the money it received from the employer and send the domestic worker back home. The office shall shoulder the expenses for sending the worker back home. If the office refuses to shoulder the expenses, the amount shall be deducted from the financial guarantee in the following situations as per Article 17 of the law:
1. Something prevents the domestic worker from performing his job and the employer has nothing to do with the obstacle.
2. The worker is found to be suffering from an infectious disease or any physical, health or psychological problem which prevents him from carrying out his job.
3. The employer is banned from issuing a residency permit for the worker in the interest of the general public.
4. The domestic worker must be repatriated in the interest of the public.
5. The office provided the employer with incorrect information about the worker.
6. The employee refuses to continue with the work or if he or she left and the location is unknown.
Q: What are the major factors that make a domestic worker decide to run away from his sponsor? Does the employer have the right to file a case against the runaway worker and where should he file the case?
A: Sometimes, the reason behind a worker’s decision to escape from the sponsor is himself or herself. He / She might have lost interest in working for the employer. On the other hand, the employer could also be the reason such as in cases of delayed payment of salary or excessive workload which is the usual cause cited by domestic workers. An employer has the right to file a case against an absconding worker at the police station in his area or the Citizens Service Center. However, the Interior Ministry recently issued a decision on filing such cases only at the Domestic Workers Department to ensure the worker’s rights are protected.
Q: In a previous press statement, you disclosed that 42 domestic labor recruitment offices were abolished for failure to correct their status in accordance with Article 50 of the law. A security restriction has been imposed to stop the issuance of visas to offices which failed to rectify their status. Please shed light on the situations which need to be corrected, conditions that must be fulfilled and reasons for abolishing an office.
A: Article 50 states that domestic labor recruitment offices must correct their status to correspond with the provisions of this law within a period of not more than three months from the issuance of the executive regulations. The executive regulations were issued on July 17, 2016 while ministerial decision number 2302/2016 on rules and procedures for executing the law was published on July 24, 2016. The ministerial decision mandates domestic labor recruitment offices to submit a financial guarantee letter for KD 40,000. Therefore, these offices must correct their status and increase their financial guarantee from KD 20,000 to KD 40,000. License is cancelled after the threemonth grace period given to the offices to correct their status as per Article 50. This grace period ended on Oct 23, 2016.
Q: How many offices and companies have obtained approval for their applications to recruit domestic workers since the new law was implemented?
A: So far, 91 offices and five companies have submitted their applications to the department.
Q: Did any of these five companies get approval from the government to start recruiting domestic workers, considering the executive regulations of the law were approved several months ago?
A: The department is in the process of issuing licenses to these companies, each of which paid a financial guarantee of KD 100,000.
Q: The Parliament passed the law in 2015 and the government issued its executive regulations on July 17, 2016. Did the department or the government take steps to educate citizens and expatriates about the law?
A: The department and other concerned government and private institutions are doing more to educate citizens and expatriates about the law. In fact, the law has been printed in five languages and distributed to the public. The government is now implementing the law on the ground.
Q: Another problem is that some employers do not allow domestic workers to return to their home countries after completion of a two-year contract and refuse to buy air tickets for the workers. Instead, these employers either force their workers to renew their employment contracts or transfer them to other employers. What steps are being taken to address the issue?
A: In such cases, we advise the domestic worker to come to the department where we cancel the contract and let her return to the home country. We then summon the sponsor to get the worker’s passport, because the sponsor cannot force the worker to renew her contract or transfer her to another sponsor without her consent.
Q: If a domestic worker escapes from the sponsor or office for any reason, where could she go to ask for help?
A: Such workers should go to the Expatriate Workers Shelter or to their embassies.
Q: What forms of assistance do these institutions offer to runaway housemaids? Are these institutions cooperating with your department?
A: If a domestic worker seeks refuge in the shelter and has a complaint against the employer, she must go to the department which will look into the case and try to settle it. In case of difficulties in settling the labor dispute, it will be referred to the competent court and the worker remains in the shelter. The employer cannot file a complaint against the employee for not working because the latter is in the shelter. However, if the worker seeks refuge in her embassy and has a complaint against the employer, she must file the complaint in the department.
Q: How do you deal with complaints filed by domestic workers, sponsors and domestic labor recruitment offices?
A: The Investigation Division at the department receives complaints which are then filed in accordance with the law and ministerial decision number 2302/2016. Article Four of the decision stipulates the following procedures:
■ Any of the parties in the contract can submit a complaint to the department.
■ The department looks into the complaint, invites the disputing parties to a discussion and then takes a decision within three months.
■ The Inspection Division hands over the invitation letters to the concerned parties personally or these letters are delivered to the concerned parties’ homes or workplaces. In case of difficulties, the letters are handed over to police stations in areas where the concerned parties are domiciled.
■ If the complaint is against a domestic labor recruitment office or company, a copy of the letter is handed over to the administration unit or one of the administration officials by employees of the Inspection Division or sent through fax.
■ In case of settlement between parties in the contract, it will be done through an agreement document which will be attached to the domestic worker’s file in the office or company and the Domestic Workers Department.
■ If the accused party refuses to visit the department or efforts to reach a settlement between disputing parties are proven futile, the case will be referred to the competent court.
Q: How does the department deal with a domestic worker who faces court procedures?
A: In accordance with the law, a court hearing will be set within a month. If the worker’s residency is expired, the department will renew it without consulting the employer for the court procedures to be completed. If the worker wants to leave, she is allowed to do so in coordination with her embassy or her country’s representative. In case she decides to come back to Kuwait, she is allowed to do so because no restriction will be impose on her.
Q: Please tell us about the most difficult case or complaint the department has received so far. How did the department handle it?
A: There is no such thing as difficult or simple complaint. All cases are resolved in accordance with the rules and procedures stipulated in the law and related ministerial decisions. If a dispute is not settled within the department, it is referred to the competent court
Q: Male domestic workers have no shelter where they can run to in case they escape from their employers for whatever reason. Is there a plan to establish a shelter for men, especially since the countries of some foreign workers have no embassies here?
A: The Public Authority for Manpower is in charge of the shelter for female runaway workers so the establishment of a similar shelter for men is under its jurisdiction.
Q: How many complaints did the department receive last year? Did the department resolve these complaints? How many of these complaints were referred to the competent courts?
A: The department received 1,340 complaints last year; most of which have been investigated and resolved. The amount returned to employers totaled KD 508,284,000 while the amount of unpaid salaries given to domestic workers totaled KD 15,725,000. A total of 41 complaints were referred to the court from August to November.
Q: How many complaints were received from domestic workers, employers and domestic labor recruitment offices last year?
A: The department received 63 complaints from domestic workers in addition to 1,257 from employers and 21 from offices .
Q: The Residency Affairs General Department and Residency Affairs Investigation General Department conduct inspection campaigns in domestic labor recruitment offices to uncover violations. How many inspections were carried out last year? What were the violations? Did the department deal with these violations.
A: A total of 1,855 inspection campaigns targeting domestic labor offices were carried out last year.
Many were found to have violated the Residency Law and one of the perpetrators was referred to the relevant authority. In addition, a domestic labor office violates the law if it deals with a returned employee who has been banned from working in accordance with the Domestic Workers Law. If a contract is signed and found to contravene the contract approved by the Interior Ministry, the perpetrator will be punished as per the law.
Biography Mohammed Hamad Al-Ajmi was born in 1966. He holds a bachelor’s degree in law and diploma in business management. He served as chairman of a division at the Domestic Workers Department from 1997 to 2009, assistant director from 2009 to 2015 and director of the department from 2015 till date. He also completed courses on criminal investigation fundamentals, management of investigation fundamentals, international arbitration and judicial proceedings. He received many certificates of appreciation and honor from HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al- Jaber Al-Sabah, minister of interior and other public officials.
By Abubakar A. Ibrahim Arab Times Staff