Asian embassies welcome Kuwaiti move to make employers pay domestic helpers through banks

July 14, 2010
By

They are fully dedicated to their work and endeavour to offer the best services.

They toil day and night, winter and summer and they rarely utter a word of objection. They have come a long way from home, leaving behind loved ones and familiar way of life to immerse themselves among strangers and in highly unfamiliar settings. They think that their personal sacrifices and their relatives’ patience will help them weather challenges and make enough money to fulfill some of their ambitions.

But there is one problem for these foreign domestic helpers working in the Gulf countries. They have not been given money for their work. And that is for years.

Kuwaiti daily Kuwait Times refers to three cases of domestic helpers from three different countries.

In Case 1, a Sri Lankan housemaid who has worked for a Kuwaiti family for 17 years has not been paid a single dinar for all her years of service. The middle-aged woman is currently in the care of her country’s embassy in Kuwait.

In Case 2, a Filipina housemaid who escaped from her abusive Kuwaiti employer after working with the family for over two years without any salary is forced to remain in the country living on the embassy’s premises, for nearly a year until her case is resolved. She eventually got a release from her previous employer, but to this day she remains in the embassy’s care, waiting for a new employer.

In Case 3, an Indonesian housemaid said that she has been subjected to all forms of verbal abuse, and that she has not been paid any salary for the last 18 months. The woman is in the custody of the Indonesian embassy.

These three cases illustrate the dilemma faced by some domestic helpers in Kuwait. However, the government now hopes to change their misery and that of thousands of others who do not get their pays by proposing amendments to the current legislation.

According to Brigadier General Abdullah Al Ali, the Managing Director of Kuwait’s Immigration Department, cases of abuses could be avoided in the future if a plan to deposit a monthly salary directly into domestic helpers’ bank-accounts is pushed through parliament.

Under the new text drafted by the government, employers will have to pay salaries directly to the helpers’ bank accounts and the states establishes a shelter for runaway housemaids which would house around 1,000 people. The draft needs the parliament’s endorsement.

Sarath Dissanayake, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Kuwait, lauded the government’s plan to implement a salary system which could help alleviate the suffering of many of his compatriots who work as domestic helpers.

“I think the plan is very encouraging. I hope they will implement it soon,” he said, quoted by Kuwait Times. “The Sri Lankan helper who worked for 17 years without receiving payment is currently under our custody; imagine working for seventeen years without pay! If the salary system is implemented, the number of cases of salary non-payment could be minimized,” Ambassador Dissanayake said.

Vivo Vidal, the Philippine Labour Attaché, praised the proposed measures, which he said would surely help reduce, if not eliminate, non-payment of salaries.

“It is favorable to our housemaids,” he said. “Salary records can be tracked through local banks. In the event of complaints, we can check the bank records to see if an employer has failed to pay the housemaid’s monthly salary.”

Afrian Asri, Press Attaché with the Indonesian Embassy’s Consular Affairs Division, welcomed the Kuwaiti government’s proposal. “It is a breakthrough in our endeavour to help our housemaids to get their monthly salary,” he said. “In this way it is possible there could be no salary-related abuses.”

On a monthly basis, each of the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Indonesia embassies shelters between 150 and 300 housemaids fleeing their sponsors’ homes, with many of these cases involving non-payment of salaries, as well as other forms of abuse, the newspaper said.

However, a Filipino community leader, speaking with the Kuwait Times on condition of anonymity, had reservations about the government’s plan.

“How can you be sure that salary abuses can be reduced by paying the salaries through banks?” he asked. “Whether through banks or by hand, if the employer is a cheat, he can cheat.”

Voicing skepticism about the merit of the proposed measure, he cited another controversial but widely-used practice.

“One great example is passports: Who, according to the Kuwaiti law, should take care of the workers’ passports? It should be the workers, right? But based on practice, those who are really keeping their passports are their sponsors; so what should we expect with the new measure?”

The activist added that since many housemaids’ civil ID cards were already withheld by their sponsors, this attitude would also be likely repeated with any ATM or other bank cards, with the sponsors then able to use them as they wished.

“Maybe they would deposit the salary every month, but they could easily withdraw the money a few minutes after depositing it. So what use is it for the domestic helper?”

With regards to the proposed shelter for runaway maids, meanwhile, Ambassador Dissanayake was cautious, but hopeful.

“This plan was proposed two years ago and did not materialize,” he said. “I hope this time they will really construct the shelter which I know would really help in decongesting our shelter. Also, if the shelter is established they can help us in terms of providing food and medicines to some of our sick runaways.”

Reacting to recent news reports about the introduction of a regulation limiting housemaid recruitment costs to a maximum of KD250, the Philippine Labour Attaché said that this issue would be decided through coordination between the Kuwaiti authorities and local recruitment agencies, rather with the countries’ embassies.

“We are a government entity,” he said. “We do not deal with any recruitment payment issues. When it comes to that, I think the Kuwaiti government should talk to their local recruitment agencies here in order to reduce the expenses for hiring housemaids. Each agency has a list of expenses imposed for hiring housemaids. I think it includes plane tickets, insurance, medical expenses and others,” he said.

The cost of recruiting a new housemaid in Kuwait, excluding wages, can vary between KD500 ($1,716) and KD1,000 ($3,432). The cost often depends on the domestic helper’s nationality and the recruitment agency.

         

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About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Career
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
Education
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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