Manila welcomes Kuwait’s move to scrap sponsorship system, urges law for domestic helpers

October 1, 2010

Shulan Primavera

Manila has welcomed Kuwait’s announcement that it would scrap the controversial sponsorship system next year, but said that addressing the issue of domestic helpers would be a huge step forward.

Shulan Primavera, the Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait, said that both Kuwait and domestic helpers would greatly benefit from an official move to tackle their concerns and address their issues.

“Kuwait’s name has taken a battering because of the domestic helpers’ issues, on the international front,” the ambassador said. “If the concerns of domestic helpers are addressed, it can help Kuwait greatly and can go a long way,” Primavera said, quoted by Kuwait Times on Friday. “Cancelling the ‘kafeel’ system is a great move that will surely help expatriate workers, but it will also help Kuwait if the concerns of domestic helpers are given priority,” he said.

The envoy said that, unlike other workers whose concerns are well-protected by the Kuwaiti labour law, domestic helpers remain the most vulnerable segment.

In Kuwait, domestic helpers’ concerns are handled by the interior ministry and are not covered by the labour law enacted in early 2010.

Last week, Mohammad Al Afassi, the social affairs and labour minister, said that Kuwait would scrap the harshly criticised sponsorship law in February.

Under the sponsorship system prevailing in the Arabian Gulf, all foreign workers are required to be sponsored by local employers who effectively put them at their mercy. A foreigner cannot enter, stay work or leave a country without the approval of the sponsor.

The system has been heavily criticized by local and international rights watchdogs, but the staunch resistance of the powerful business communities has made scrapping it a formidable task.

Bahrain in 2009 abolished the system after Majeed Al Alawi, the labour minister, braved a barrage of accusations from businesses and implemented the decision.

Al Alawi, who has said that the sponsorship system was modern-day slavery, was initially accused of promoting a decision that would cause the economy to collapse. He and his team rejected the charges and insisted on the need to treat foreigners with dignity.

Al Alawi faced problems with the business community when he called for a five-year cap on unskilled labourers to ensure less reliance by Gulf nationals on foreigners and to help preserve the local language, cultures and traditions from foreign onslaughts.

His proposal for the cap, supported by the labour ministers of the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), waded into controversy and its implementation has been delayed.



About the author

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

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