Dispatch on Migrant and Domestic Workers in Kuwait


Tensions between Kuwait and the Philippines have steadily increased in recent years, specifically concerning the circumstances of the 268,000 Filipino migrant and domestic workers (MDWs) in Kuwait. In 2022, remittances from Kuwait to the Philippines amounted to approximately $597 million. Yet the mistreatment, in this case, withholding payments, of Filipino MDWs in Kuwait does not stop there. Reports indicate that workers repeatedly face sexual abuse, rape, human trafficking, labor contract violations, and illegal terminations. In 2022 alone, the Filipino Department of Migrant Workers claimed 24,000 cases of rights violations and abuse against Filipino MDWs, with the Philippines Overseas Workers Welfare Administration documenting 196 deaths of Filipino workers since 2016. A recent case is that of Jullebee Ranara, a Filipino domestic worker who was raped and murdered. This has led to a dispute between the two countries, especially concerning their 2018 labor agreement regulating domestic workers.

On 10 May 2023, following accusations from the Filipino government, Kuwait decided to suspend all new visas for MDWs from the Philippines. After a meeting between the two states in May of 2023, Kuwait stated that the temporary ban on the issuance of new visas would remain until the Philippines stopped violating conditions stipulated by the government of Kuwait and until the Philippines acknowledged “that it had committed violations and transgression of the laws, decisions, and regulations in force in the state of Kuwait and for violating the diplomatic norms recognised between countries”.

Though the abusive treatment of MDWs in Kuwait is not unique to Filipino workers, this dispatch will focus on their situation. Firstly, the dispatch will look into the national legal framework protecting the rights of all MDWs in Kuwait. Next, the international legal framework and various conventions protecting the rights of all MDWs to which Kuwait is a signatory will be discussed. Lastly, the current situation of Filipino MDWs in Kuwait and how their rights are being violated will be examined.

National legal framework protecting the rights of all MDWs

 The national legal framework protecting the rights of all MDWs is seemingly extensive, though the laws and legislation applicable to the private sector and domestic workers may vary. The critical legislation concerning private sector workers is the Private Sector Labour Law, No. 6/2010. In contrast, the key legislation relating to domestic workers is Law No. 68/2015 on Domestic Workers, Ministerial Decision No. 2194/2016, and Ministerial Decision No. 22/2022. The following laws and decisions also regulate the rights of MDWs in the country and concern issues such as wages, lodging complaints and resolving disputes, passport confiscation, working hours, rest periods and overtime, sick leave, the right to join trade unions, sponsorship, and leaving the country. Although the table does not extensively describe each law and ministerial decision, as well as which applies explicitly to migrant or domestic workers, it indicates some of the most important regulations.

Employers are prohibited from confiscating workers’ passports. Kuwaiti Ministerial Decision No. 166/2007 Concerning the Prohibition of Confiscating Travel Documents of Workers in the Private Sector.


Articles 2, 5-6 of Ministerial Decision No. 2194/2016.

Minimum wage: 75 Kuwaiti dinars (US$ 250) per month. For private sector workers: Ministerial Decision No. 14/2017


For domestic workers: Article 27 of Ministerial Decision No. 22/2022

A rest period of 1 day per week Article 22(3) of Law No. 68/2015
Nightly rest of eight hours as well as 1 hour of rest after five hours of work per day Standard Employment Contract
Domestic workers must bring disputes to the PAM Domestic Workers’ Department (DWD) Law No. 68/2015 and Council of Ministers Decision No. 614/2018
Employers are prohibited from discriminating against workers on any grounds in all aspects of employment. Sexual harassment in the workplace is not permitted in all its forms and means, including utilizing new technological methods. Resolution No. 177/2021 Prohibiting Discrimination in Employment in the Private Sector and Prohibiting Sexual Harassment in Workplaces
Regulations regarding sponsorship, changing employer, and transfer within sectors Administrative Decision No. 842/2015, Administrative Decision No. 451/2016, Administrative Decision No. 712/2017, and Ministerial Decision No. 552/2018

In addition, the Kafala system is still in place in Kuwait. Though MDWs require no exit permit in the country, restrictions on the movement of employees are still in place. For domestic workers, permission is needed to change employment during their contract period. For migrant workers in other fields, restrictions depend on the area of work. Private-sector employees on government-contracted projects are only allowed to change employment after the end of their contract. For workers in small or medium enterprises, this is only allowed after three years of continuous employment and with permission from their employer.

Furthermore, in 2018, a new agreement between Kuwait and the Philippines was signed to help regulate the working conditions of Filipino MDWs in the country. In short, this agreement aimed to guarantee domestic workers’ rights and address allegations of abusive working conditions. The agreement further banned employers from holding onto the passports and travel documents of MDWs, preventing them from leaving when they face harsh working conditions.

International legal framework protecting the rights of all MDWs

It is also essential to understand the international legal framework protecting the rights of all MDWs, and, more specifically, the international norms and standards that apply to MDWs in Kuwait. Perhaps the most critical document protecting the rights of MDWs worldwide is the “International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.” This Convention, in short, accords fundamental rights to all migrants, no matter the work they are employed in, and protects them throughout the whole migration process. Additionally, the Convention seeks to prevent and eliminate the exploitation of migrant workers. It aims to ensure that they receive the same treatment as nationals of the country they are working in. Lastly, the Convention states that migrant workers have the right to access protection and assistance from their state of origin’s consular or diplomatic authorities whenever their rights are not recognized. However, Kuwait has neither signed nor ratified this Convention and thus, MDWs working in the country are not entitled to these rights.

Though Kuwait may not have ratified the “International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families,” it has acceded to all the following covenants and conventions: the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the “International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” the “International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,” the “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,” and the “Convention on the Rights of the Child.” These Covenants and Conventions, though not explicitly mentioning MDWs, provide for the basic human rights of these workers and help to enhance their protection. Therefore, Kuwait has obligations to abide by these international standards but has failed to do so in light of the multiple cases of mistreatment and unnatural death of these workers, as detailed below.

Looking at the International Labour Organization, it is essential to note that Kuwait has been a member since 1961 and has ratified seven of the fundamental Conventions, two of the governance Conventions, and 10 of the technical Conventions. These Conventions help to regulate employment policies, freedom of association, the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor, the elimination of discrimination regarding employment, and the right to organize and participate in trade unions. As all these Conventions are in force in Kuwait, the country must abide by these standards.

How are the rights of migrant and domestic workers in Kuwait being violated?

In February of 2018, 29-year-old Joanna Demafelis body was found after her body had been kept in a freezer for two years. Her employers were arrested and eventually sentenced to death by Kuwaiti courts. In May 2019, 47-year-old Constancia Lago Dayag was declared dead on arrival at Al Sabah Hospital in Kuwait following several contusions, a hematoma, and sexual abuse, including penetration with a foreign object. Her employer was later charged with felony murder. In December 2019, 26-year-old Jeanelyn Villavende was killed following weeks of sexual and physical abuse by her employers. Despite reporting her mistreatment and underpayment, nothing was done to rectify the situation. Her employer was later sentenced to death, with the husband being sentenced to four years in jail for not reporting the crime. In January 2023, the body of 35-year-old Jullebee Ranara was found abandoned in a desert. Her body was found burnt, her head was smashed, and she had reportedly been raped and murdered. Ranara was pregnant at the time of her death. Her 17-year-old employer’s son was soon arrested for her murder.

This situation of mistreatment, abuse, and in the worst of cases, death is not unique to Filipino domestic workers in Kuwait. In 2018, an Ethiopian domestic worker was found dead following abuse from her employers. In April 2017, an Ethiopian woman fell from the seventh floor of an apartment building while trying to escape her employer, who she believed was trying to kill her. These employers had previously been arrested for torturing a domestic worker. Between 2010-2018, 2,247 Nepali domestic workers requested their embassy in Kuwait to rescue them from their employers.

Despite a new agreement between Kuwait and the Philippines to help protect MDWs, the reality of a home environment being the workspace makes it challenging to regulate an employer’s actions and protect domestic workers, women especially, from abuse. This challenge is increased when faced with the fact that around 90% of the population in Kuwait hires at least one domestic worker, making up approximately 22% of the workforce in the country.

Although reforms have occurred, the country’s Kafala system remains in place. Indeed new laws passed included granting one day off per week, 30 days of paid annual leave, 12 hours days, and overtime compensation (indicated in the National legal framework protecting the rights of all MDWs section). However, these new laws lack parameters for house and employer checks. Enforcement mechanisms ensuring adequate working conditions are also not in place. Furthermore, employers are prohibited from confiscating passports or failing to provide their employees with adequate food, water, time off, and medical expenses. However, no sanctions exist when these laws are violated. This increases the risk of exploitation and the likelihood of domestic workers facing abusive situations.

Abuse and mistreatment are not limited to domestic workers, though information on workers in other sectors is limited. Migrant workers in blue-collar jobs such as construction, for example, also face these harsh conditions. The violations of their rights most commonly occur when looking at their freedom of movement and restrictions on their right to change employers. Furthermore, the government of Kuwait has suspended visitor visas and migrant family residency visas. Lastly, though migrant workers, unlike domestic workers, are allowed to join trade unions, according to Order No.1/1964, they may only do this if they have a valid work permit and have a minimum of five years of residence in the country.



Though new regulations and laws have been passed in the country, a lack of enforcement mechanisms, sanctions, and the reality of the home environment being a workspace result in MDWs facing deplorable working conditions and, at times, a risk to their life and well-being. Actions need to be taken to ensure that migrant and domestic workers in the country have safe surroundings and do not live in fear while doing their jobs and earning money for their families. This becomes even more pertinent in light of Kuwait’s international obligations.