Migrant workers in Kuwait

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Migrant workers in Kuwait constitute around 40% of the population.[1] The group of workers most prone to face abuse were the thousands of women employed as domestic servants, mostly nationals of south and south-east Asian countries.

Kafeel sponsorship system[edit]

Kuwait's foreign worker sponsorship system mandates that expatriates must be sponsored by a local employer to get a work permit. In August 2008, MP Abdullah Al-Roumi declared that he was going to draft a law to scrap Kuwait’s "kafeel" foreign worker sponsorship system: "The government should be the only kafeel... We have scores of bachelors residing in Kuwait with an equal number of crimes. Many are caused due to the 'trading with humans' issue which taints the reputation of Kuwait." [2][3] The government is currently planning to scrap the 'sponsorship system' in favor of a new system will be implemented to allow the expatriate workers to transfer their residence permits to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor.[4]

Minimum wage[edit]

In the parliamentary debates over the Kuwaiti minimum wage, MPs Askar Al-Enezi and Sadoon Al-Otaibi have dismissed past wage increases as “too small” and not enough to meet the steep hikes in consumer prices. On February 21, 2008, the parliament approved a 120 dinar ($440) monthly pay rise for nationals in the public and private sectors after inflation hit 7.3%, a 15-year high. It also decided to raise by 50 dinars ($183) the pay of foreigners employed by the government. In response, Al-Enezi said, “We reject this increase because it is well below expectations. We urge the government to review its decision." [5]

Anti-trafficking reform[edit]

On September 22, 2008, MP Saleh Al-Mulla demanded from Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Bader Al-Duwailah a list of companies involved in human trafficking. Mulla also asked about the measures taken against the violating companies and other steps that would be taken in the future to prevent such violations from taking place.[6]

Blacklist for those who mistreat foreign workers[edit]

On October 2, 2007, Waleed Al-Tabtabaie called for the interior ministry to draw up a blacklist of employers who mistreat their domestic helpers and urged stiff penalties for physical abuse. Al-Tabtabaie said that employers who abuse their maids "physically or morally" should be added to the blacklist and prevented from hiring new maids. Al-Tabtabie, a member of parliament's human rights panel, argued that the phenomenon of maid abuse "has lately increased to a disturbing level and a large number of abuses are committed annually, with most cases failing to reach the court." [7] In September 2007, Kuwait opened a temporary shelter to house runaway maids until their disputes with employers are resolved. The Kuwaiti government plans to open two permanent centres for males and females to be housed separately.[7]

Background[edit]

The country was a destination and transit point for men and women for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Victims came from South and East Asia, including Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia, and the Philippines, although individuals from other countries, such as Ethiopia and Eritrea, also reportedly were trafficked. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians worked in the country, and some were subjected to trafficking, particularly in the form of debt bondage. There were reports that foreign workers under age 18 were employed in homes in the country, but most victims were adults.

Principal traffickers were labor-recruitment agencies and sponsors (employers) of foreign workers. The primary method used to obtain and transport victims was for employers to offer valid contracts to workers and then not honor those contracts. There were reports that employers gave workers new contracts at lower salaries than those they signed previously or deducted multiple fees from their salaries. Some companies reportedly kept workers' cash cards and withdrew part of the salary after the paycheck had been deposited. Workers found it difficult to leave these situations for several reasons: employers frequently withheld workers' passports or otherwise restricted their movements; employees often were in debt from their travel to the country; and employers could file or threaten to file criminal charges against workers for absconding. Workers had only limited ability to transfer from the sponsorship of one employer to another. Some workers also faced physical and sexual assault as means of forcing them to work.

Some traffickers, citizens and noncitizens, would set up a "sham" company and get permission to import a certain number of foreign workers. The trafficker's agent in a foreign country would collect high fees from prospective workers, purportedly for the right to come to the country to work. However, when the workers arrived, they found there was no work for them. In some cases, the employer would file an absconding charge or simply report that the employee was no longer employed. Victims were left without means of support and sometimes in violation of immigration laws and were thus vulnerable to trafficking, while the employer could then import more workers and charge them the same fees. In other cases, workers knew that they were merely paying for sponsorship and that it was up to them to find work.

Traffickers also forced some female domestic workers into prostitution after they had escaped an abusive employer or by deceiving them with a promise of a job in a different sector.

Although the law does not explicitly prohibit trafficking in persons, traffickers can be prosecuted for transnational slavery, with a penalty of up to ten years' imprisonment, or forced prostitution, with a penalty of up to five years' imprisonment or seven for minors. Penalties for trafficking-related crimes range from fines and incarceration for failure to abide by the standardized domestic labor contract to life sentences and death for rape. However, in most cases, law enforcement efforts were not effective and focused on administrative measures, such as shutting down companies in violation of labor laws or issuing the return of withheld passports or payment of back-wages, rather than criminal punishments for abusive employers.

During the year the courts did not make convictions for trafficking-related crimes. The MOSAL, the government agency responsible for enforcing labor regulations, referred 29 companies to the Investigation Department for nonpayment of worker salaries.

The government assisted some trafficking victims; however, victims were sometimes detained, prosecuted, or deported for acts, such as prostitution or absconding, committed as a result of being trafficked. The government sheltered some trafficking victims in the domestic worker shelter built in 2007, and it occasionally paid for airline tickets to repatriate runaway or abused domestic workers. The Domestic Workers Administration sometimes brokered solutions between employers and former employees. There were no government programs to prevent trafficking during the year.

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