Lack of experience, abuses compound helpers’ misery in Kuwait

February 20, 2011

Diplomats have attributed the surge in the number of runaway domestic helpers in Kuwait to lack of proper qualifications and abuses by recruitment agencies.

“Foreign workers take up labour jobs such as house helpers or factory workers despite their lack of the required experience,” a Kuwait-based labour official said. “They eventually run away from their employers to seek shelter in their embassies or terminate their contracts prematurely after being subjected to tough labour conditions,” the unnamed official was quoted as saying by Kuwaiti daily Al Watan.

According to a diplomat, the number of runaway domestic helpers currently sheltered in his embassy has increased tremendously.

“Aside from serious complaints about physical and verbal abuses, non-payment of salaries, lack of rest hours and day-offs and exhaustion, there is the lack of experience for the jobs. Applicants have no actual experience of working as domestic helpers,” the envoy said.

Another diplomat said that the professional standards of domestic helpers being deployed to Kuwait have dropped drastically.

“We cannot put the blame on recruitment agencies alone; domestic helpers are equally responsible. Trainings and seminars can only provide limited information about the functions and duties of a domestic helper, and adequate experience remains vital,” the diplomat said.

The majority of those employed as house helpers come from poor and destitute families and have very little education, a fact that limits their capacity to communicate and understand instructions and often results in conflicts between employers and the house helpers, he said.

“Another issue is that some of the house helpers deployed to Kuwait are underage. Their documents have been falsified intentionally by the recruitment agencies with the consent knowledge of the applicant. The embassy eventually finds out their true ages after series of investigations “, the diplomat said.

Recent interviews with Asian embassy officials have indicated that they have repatriated 1,000 domestic helpers in the last two months.

However, the repatriation process has been slow, mainly due to the limited cooperation of employers and recruitment agencies.

The refusal by employers or agencies to issue return tickets, the limited number of endorsement to a temporary shelter in Khaitan and the legal cases filed against the workers are major hurdles to the process, the paper reported.

Last year, a Kuwaiti official suggested reducing the number of domestic workers in the country to help keep a demographic balance and fight human trafficking.

“There are too many domestic helpers in the country. The estimated number of about 600,000 is too large and needs to be reduced in order to maintain a balanced population formula,” Brigadier Kamel Al Awadhi, head of the Immigration Directorate, said.

Kuwait is home to 2.2 million expatriates, mainly from domestic helpers and unskilled labourers from Asia.



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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