Lately in Kuwait, the news is dominated by stories of expats (wafedeen). At the top of the hour is the dispute between Kuwait and the Philippine government over the treatment and rights of domestic helpers and laborers. Of course, I second Philippine President Duterte’s zealous defense of his citizens. I salute his courage. The man has a history of patriotism and fighting corruption, specially the drug cartels, which are a massive power in the Philippines.
Back in Kuwait, we’ve been hiring Filipina domestic workers for more than 30 years. Why, for God’s sake, hasn’t there been in the course of all these years a single, proper comprehensive study to understand the problems and challenges which domestic helpers and employers face. The problems go both ways, although the latter face less.
There are problems, of course, but overall, domestic labor benefits Kuwait and its people, and let’s face it, they contribute greatly to our daily lives. So let’s give them their rights and respect and dignity. Maybe the rules in the ministry protect domestic workers now with the new domestic labor law, but the law is not widely implemented.
Helpers are supposed to get a salary every month, a day off per week, no more than 12 hours of work per day, one month of salary for each year worked as indemnity and a decent place to live and food to eat. And it goes without saying they deserve humane and respectful treatment as human beings who are just doing their job.
How can this be accomplished? Is it too difficult for the government to set up a special organization tasked with monitoring the implementation of this law? And don’t laugh at me and say: “What? You want an organization to watch over the maids?” I say: “Yes! Big Yes!” Because every single household in Kuwait has at least one or two domestic helpers. So it is an issue – a major issue – and we cannot close our eyes to it.
Let’s explain how this organization can work: First, every new arrival to Kuwait should be given at least basic information on how to contact her embassy, the organization overseeing the law, what are her basic rights and responsibilities and what she can do if she’s unpaid, abused or in need of help.
Second, there needs to be regular follow-up in three-month or six-month intervals with helpers – especially those who are new arrivals – to ensure that they are being treated fairly. We have so many qualified young men and women who can be trained to act as social workers to follow up and ensure the health and wellbeing of all domestic workers.
The municipality sends inspectors to restaurants to ensure food is safe for consumption. Can’t we send inspectors at least to look after the welfare of the people who are working inside our homes, serving our food and taking care of our children? Doesn’t that seem like an important thing to do?
By Badrya Darwish