Kuwait sets minimum wage for maids

Omar Hasan, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jul 15 2016 04:23 AM

Kuwait has set a minimum wage for its hundreds of thousands of mostly Asian domestic workers, in a first for Gulf states which have come under widespread accusations of abuse.

A decree issued by Interior Minister Sheikh Mohammad Khaled Al-Sabah set the minimum wage at 60 dinars ($200) a month and also granted domestic staff a raft of other rights, Al-Anbaa newspaper reported on Thursday.

Kuwait is the first country in the Gulf to regulate the work conditions of domestic staff through legislation and Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other rights groups have urged others to follow suit to tackle widespread abuses.

The decree, which sets out measures to implement a landmark law adopted by parliament last year, also requires employers to pay overtime for any extra hours worked.

It grants domestic workers the right to a weekly day off, 30 days of annual paid leave, a 12-hour working day with rest, and an end-of-service benefit of one month a year at the end of contract.

The estimated 600,000 maids in Kuwait are among at least 2.4 million working at homes across the Gulf. They are not covered by ordinary labour legislation.

HRW and other groups have documented widespread abuses, including non-payment of wages, long working hours with no rest days, physical and sexual assault, and no clear channels for redress.

In its 2016 Trafficking in Persons report, the US State Department upgraded Kuwait from tier 3, the worst level, to tier 2 while keeping it on watch list, citing an improvement in its treatment of migrant workers, including maids.

The report places the other five Gulf Arab states -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates -- at the same level as Kuwait.

'Forced labour'

It moved Oman to watch list after reports of abuses.

HRW warned on Wednesday that many foreign domestic workers in Oman are trapped in abusive employment and urged the sultanate to reform its "restrictive" immigration system.

The New York-based watchdog said that some of the 59 domestic workers it interviewed described "abuses that amounted to forced labour or trafficking."

Its report documented how Oman's visa sponsorship system for workers, known in Gulf countries as kafala, and the lack of labour law protection, leave migrant domestic workers "exposed to abuse and exploitation."

HRW has repeatedly urged Gulf states to reform their labour laws to cover domestic workers and provide them with "equal protections" available to other workers, and to revise the kafala system.

The kafala system, or sponsorship, has been criticised as a form of bonded labour or even slavery.

It restricts most workers from moving to a new job before their contracts end unless their employers agree, trapping many of them.

In November 2014, Gulf and Asian labour ministers agreed on a series of initiatives aimed at boosting protection and improving conditions of employment for foreign workers in the Gulf.

Ahead of the conference, GCC labour ministers agreed on minimum terms in the contracts of domestic staff to improve their working conditions.

The terms included entitling domestic workers to a weekly day off, annual leave and the right to live outside their employer's house.

The contract was also to limit the working day to eight hours.

Bahrain reformed its labour law to extend some benefits to maids, while Saudi Arabia issued a decision last year limiting the hours worked by domestic staff to a maximum of 15 per day and granting one month's leave after two years of service.

Most of those regulations, however, lack enforcement and have not been successful in halting abuse against domestic staff, human rights group say.