Marginal labour in Kuwait has economic & rights dimensions Law that deals with domestic workers needs reform

Published by rudy Date posted on May 24, 2011

KUWAIT CITY, May 24: “Laws should be enacted to make Kuwait a better environment for workers to come and be afforded all the rights that they are supposed to have as human beings in accordance with international standards,” were the words of the Secretary General of Kuwait Human Rights Society, Amer Al-Tameemi, speaking at a lecture on “Marginal Labor In Kuwait” organized Tuesday by the Anthropology program, Social and Behavioral Science Department of the American University of Kuwait.

The lecture which attracted a large crowd of students and lecturers of the university, kicked off with Dana Al-Otaibi giving the opening comments to pave the way for the two key speakers, Dr Ibtehal Al-Khateeb and Amer Al-Tameemi to be ushered in by Dr Pellegrino Luciano of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Dr Pellegrino, however, before ushering in the two speakers, chimed in with an introduction of the theme of the lecture, saying that it was going to be about the conditions of migrant labor in Kuwait and the human rights issues that those conditions might raise. “Most of us here are from different backgrounds so we would have to brainstorm on the issue and might possibly come out with different solutions,” he said.

The question of marginal labour in Kuwait, according to Al-Tameemi, is an economic one as well as a human rights issue in a Kuwaiti economy that is divided between oil and non-oil sectors. He added that about 70 percent of expat labor in Kuwait is unskilled and low paid, mainly coming from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Egypt.

In a further demographic analysis of the population of Kuwait, Al-Tameemi noted that out of a total of 3.5 million people living in Kuwait, about 2.5 million are expatriates among whom 80 percent of the labor force can be found. He further revealed that while 90 percent of Kuwaitis who make themselves available for employment are in the government sector, about 1.2 million migrants are in private sector jobs, adding that the law regulating government employment was amended in 2010 but the resultant new law does not cover domestic workers, an issue which Kuwait has been asked several times to enact a law on. According to him, there are about 650,000 domestic workers in the households of Kuwaitis numbering about 1.2 million people, which leave every Kuwaiti person with about two and a half domestic workers.

Wage

The government, however, took steps to raise the minimum wage for domestic workers to KD 60 per month, which is a positive step in the right direction.
Most complaints of worker maltreatment in recent times, according to Al-Tameemi, come from private sector workers of companies working on government contracts, and to ensure those behaviors by those contractors are checked, the government should now require bank guarantees provided before contracts are awarded so in the event of non payment of employees’ wages, the bank guarantees can be used to settle those issues. All these, he added, have to be added to the new law and should not be done by a decree from the minister; decrees depend very much on the mood of the minister at a particular point in time.

Dr Ibtehal Al-Khateeb, on her part, said that with the globalization of human rights issues, all countries, including the West are looking internally to see what aspects of their behavior can be modified to strengthen their human rights institutions, and countries that are found to be non compliant are put under the scrutiny of the entire world; unfortunately, most countries in that non compliant category are found in the oriental part of the world where the concept of human rights is generally seen differently from the universal concept embraced by the rest of the world. according to her, Kuwait has a long list of human rights issues pending resolution, which include the issues of laborers, Bedouns, women, political prisoners, prisoners of conscience, just to mention a few.

She pointed out that the law that deals with domestic laborers needs reform to protect those laborers in Kuwaiti homes, adding that domestic workers in Kuwaiti homes encourage laziness in Kuwaitis who cannot do much without them.

It was now time to screen a documentary on marginal laborers in Kuwait entitled “Tokai the Street Cleaner,” co-directed by Vachan Scharma. In his introductory comments before the screening of the documentary, Sharma said he believes in the power of film to change the world.

Plight

The documentary, based on the plight of real marginal Bangladeshi workers in Kuwait, highlights the plight of the marginal laborer who had to borrow money to the tune of $4,000 to get recruited to work in Kuwait for a monthly salary of KD 40 but only receives KD 20 per month with electricity and water bills deducted on arrival to Kuwait. Sharma noted that there are about 200,000 Bangladeshi workers in Kuwait with similar stories. — Iddris Seidu – Arab Times Staff

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