On 14 July 2016, the Kuwaiti government set a minimum wage for the over 660,000 domestic workers within the country. The Ministry of Interior published the notice, which specifies the new minimum wage as 60 Kuwaiti dinar per month. Before the implementation of the minimum wage law, domestic workers in Kuwait earned less than 20 percent of the average national wage. By implementing such a law, the Government of Kuwait shows its willingness to address the problem. Now, it must enact proper enforcement of the law to deter domestic worker abuse
The minimum wage decree comes just over one year after Kuwaiti legislators adopted a law extending labor rights to domestic workers on 24 June 2015. Until last year, domestic workers, many of whom are migrants coming from South Asia and Africa, did not have any protections under Kuwaiti law. They were formally excluded under Article 5 of the general labor law, the New Private Sector Labor Law No. 6 of 2010.
The June 2015 labor law gives migrant workers enforceable rights, and contains provisions to protect them from forced labor. Among these new protections was the implementation of a maximum 12-hour workday. Employers must also allow domestic workers to take one day off per week and have thirty days of paid vacation leave per year.
The minimum wage law and the June 2015 labor law offer needed protections for domestic workers in Kuwait. Many domestic workers are subjected to physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their employers. Some employers will force them to work as many as 22 hours per day, prohibit them from eating, and lock them in the house. Their employers usually take away their cell phones, rendering them unable to communicate with anyone or call for help. Many employers also confiscate domestic workers’ passports.
The abuse is so widespread and severe that many countries, such as Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Uganda, have banned or considered banning its citizens from obtaining visas to work as domestic help in Kuwait. Some domestic workers, desperate to escape from the abuse, flee from their employers. With no work or shelter, many of those former domestic workers end up trafficked into the sex trade.
As the labor law was only implemented last year and the minimum wage law has not had time to take effect, it is unclear whether these measures are actually impacting the lives of domestic workers for the better. Kuwait currently has an anti-trafficking and a general labor law, both of which are supposed to provide protection to migrant workers who do not work as domestic help. However, these protected migrant workers still experience forced labor. Their employers routinely confiscate their passports, withhold their wages, and physically abuse them. Solely having protection under the law is not enough to eradicate the problems migrant workers face in Kuwait.
Despite its implementation of these two new pieces of legislation, the Kuwaiti government will still need to strictly enforce these laws in order for them to be effective at protecting the rights of domestic workers. Also, while the law does start to give rights to domestic workers, it does not have any provisions that protect them from abuse. The international community needs to pressure Kuwaiti officials to continue to create legislation that protects workers from abuse and spend resources on implementing the laws it has promulgated. Without proper enforcement, these laws will do little to impact the daily lives of workers in Kuwait.
Brittany Hamzy is an Advocacy Fellow at ADHRB.