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Kuwait mulls minimum wage law for maids

Kuwait City, May 13, 2010

Kuwait lawmakers are considering a separate law to set a minimum salary for the roughly 560,000 domestic workers in the country and impose rules protecting them from abuse.

'This is the first step. It is a most welcome legislation because it protects our household workers,' said Vivo Vidal, the labour attache at the Philippines Embassy, adding he wanted the bill to guarantee wage payment.

Kuwait, long criticised along with other Gulf states for its treatment of foreign workers, introduced a minimum monthly wage of 60 dinars ($209) in April in a move that affects hundreds of thousands of Asian labourers. But the new minimum wage excludes domestic workers.

Draft legislation currently on the table would set a minimum wage of 45 dinars for household staff such as maids, drivers and cooks, and extend them protection from overwork, non-payment of salary and physical abuse.

That could mean a world of difference for many who work 16-hour days without breaks.   

'They need to treat them well,' Lucy Cometa, a Filipina maid in Kuwait, who earns a salary of 60 dinars but is not granted days off, said of less fortunate domestic workers. 'Some of them, they don't give them food or rest. Sometimes they wake them at night to work.'    

The new rules, if passed into law, would limit working hours to eight a day and bar employers from holding the passports of workers. It would also give workers one day a week and public holidays off from work.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said last month that Middle East governments had taken steps to improve the treatment of domestic workers and respond to abuse, but change had been slow as many critical reforms were lagging behind.

'Reforms often encounter stiff resistance from employers fearing higher costs and fewer entitlements, labour brokers profiting off a poorly-regulated system, and government officials who view migrants as a security threat,' HRW said.

Some critics say while the law would in principle impose fines on employers who fail to pay their household staff, there was little apparent enforcement mechanism. The bill ensures access to courts, but only after other mechanisms are exhausted.

'Who will monitor the employer?' an Asian diplomat who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said, adding most sponsors don't allow domestic helpers to call their embassy or to leave home unaccompanied.    

Some workers end up fleeing their workplaces and seeking refuge at their embassies, and the government has opened a shelter for runaway maids where they can stay until they resolve differences with employers or be repatriated if they choose. - Reuters




Tags: Kuwait | law | maids | minimum wage |

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