Domestic labor: Luxury or need?

Muna Al Fuzai

A huge debate is on these days in the Kuwaiti society over the high cost of recruiting a new domestic worker and the entry of a new government company in the labor market as a solution to control the problem of high fees for domestic labor recruitment. I believe that domestic labor is not a need or luxury – as a consumerist society, we should deal with the issue the same way as the fast food industry. This is my personal opinion regarding the subject of domestic employment in Kuwait.

Let us be clear – in Kuwait, many citizens and expatriates, whether Arabs or others, depend on domestic workers, and of course they want to get the best in terms of fees. It is really unfortunate that domestic workers have become a necessity for many people. They think that they cannot feel comfortable except in the presence of a servant, whether a man or a woman, and even force them to travel with them because they do not want to take care of their children or cook or clean or prepare their own things.

The total number of domestic workers in Kuwait is around 669,000 laborers. The department of domestic labor in 2016 issued 27 suspension orders to some domestic labor offices for a period of three to six months, while revoking the license of 68 offices for violations of the domestic employment law.

I think that the problem of domestic labor is a problem of the culture of the society that is dominated by laziness, dependency and avoiding family responsibilities. What is the need to hire a maid for a small family consisting of one child, for example, or as some believe there must be a maid for each child? It is a wrong culture and has negative repercussions on society.
There is an absence of the understanding and acceptance of the idea that a domestic worker is an employee with a work contract and has rights and duties, and is not enslaved. The only difference is that at the end of the day, he/she sleeps in the same house with the family. The dispute between many people and the domestic labor offices led the government to establish a government company to reduce the high fees of recruitment, where the rates have exceeded more than KD 1,000.

Al-Durra Company for Domestic Work was established in accordance with law no. 69 of 2015 as a Kuwaiti company specialized in recruiting workers. Its ownership is divided between the Union of Cooperative Societies (60 percent), the Kuwait Investment Authority (10 percent), the Public Institution for Social Insurance (10 percent) and Kuwait Airways (10 percent).

But some people are wondering if this modern company will be able to resolve this social dilemma within two years of its establishment. I think that such a perception is illogical. A new company cannot enter this old trade market and impose its terms easily. It needs time, just as any other trade. I wish the government had tried to develop a specific approach in dealing with the subject, starting with the existing offices, because they know how things work either in Kuwait or offices abroad.
The talk about the existence of some pressure against the new government company should not be ignored without the intervention of the government, because it is a company that has been established with the money of many government agencies. I think the high recruitment fees of domestic labor is a normal thing, because at the end of the day, it is pure trade.

I agree that it is necessary to establish controls on bringing domestic workers on everyone, starting with determining the number of workers depending on the family size. Also, the strictness and verification of the possibility of the family owner to meet the duties prescribed both in terms of wages and weekly leave for the worker is imperative, along with not forcing non-Muslims to wear the hijab and to work specific hours. These are minor but essential rights. I believe that unless we resolve all these issues, the fees will only be one element of an endless chain.

By Muna Al-Fuzai

This article was published on 23/12/2017