A few weeks ago, a social media influencer made the world talk about Kuwait, and as much as I disagree with her, she has inspired me to write this article. Yes we have always had laws that prevent abuse in Kuwait, but the stories of abuse continue and we were labeled internationally as those who practice ‘modern day slavery’. I know that is a strong statement to make, but since I have been writing legal articles for Kuwait Times, my inbox has been flooded with thousands and thousands of emails from expats in Kuwait. Good, bad, pretty, ugly, nice, horrible, true and untrue stories. From expats that are domestic workers to expats working as CEOs, one thing the emails have in common though is that the sender wants to see change, and the time is here, change is coming.
For today’s article, I have decided to share a very small sample of emails that I get (unedited, except for removing personal information to hide the identity of the senders). If you are Kuwaiti reading this, think of how it would feel if you were in their situation, and if you aren’t Kuwaiti and you have seen something similar, I apologize on behalf of all the other Kuwaitis; a large number of us are very grateful to have a diverse community in Kuwait. Your contribution to our society is appreciated. I am sorry if you felt like you would never fit in. I am sorry if you felt you would have to leave eventually and this would never be home. I am sorry if someone hasn’t made you feel safe.
And as humans reading this, I urge you to speak up when you can, to share your stories, but more importantly, to share suggestions and make a difference, because change is here. These stories are important to share, to continue a dialogue, for a better Kuwait.
Tired all the time
Email: Salam-Alaykum! Hi, I’m presently working here in Kuwait as a domestic worker. I just want to ask some questions because it’s really bothering me. Is it normal to work 15 hours a day? I start working from 9am to 3pm; 3pm-3:30pm is my lunch time, then 3:30pm till 4pm I wash too many dishes. Sometimes I finish at 4:30pm. After I finish washing the dishes, I rest until 5pm. My employer had given me schedules before that provide two hours of rest from 4pm to 6pm, but now she doesn’t follow the schedule. Then I work from 5pm till 12 midnight. My dinner time is 10 pm to 10:30pm. The rest of the time, I work. I don’t have time to call my family. I wash my clothes at 12 midnight. So I sleep at 1am. Is it good to work every day like this? I feel tired all the time.
Response: According to the domestic workers’ law that has been effective since 2015, the maximum hours that a domestic worker should be working is 12 hours a day, which should include breaks. The maximum overtime is an additional two hours, which the employer should pay an additional half day salary for those two hours. This means you should be able to get 10 hours of personal time a day. I know that because of the nature of the work, this law might seem difficult to monitor; domestic workers are working inside homes, where no one can assess how many hours they are working, but hopefully people will soon realize the importance of treating other humans with the respect and dignity they deserve.
Unable to leave
Email: My name is ———– and I am working in Kuwait as a domestic worker. Actually, I never asked my employer to leave my job because I am scared to say so. But I don’t want to stay here. I found your name and email on Google, so I am messaging you here. Please give me any solution, so I can go without problems. I am Waiting for your reply. I want to go back to my country, but the company is not giving me my passport. They are asking for a KD 500 fee to let me go home. Please help me.
Response: Everyone should be able to leave when they want to, otherwise public prosecution should really consider implementing laws related to kidnapping. Also, according to the domestic employment law of 2015, all personal documents such as IDs and passports should be kept with the worker.
Issue with kafeel
Email: I have been working in Kuwait for only five months. I have an issue with my kafeel (sponsor). He is not providing food. I always spend my money to buy foods, and when I asked him to give me money to buy food, he refused and became angry. He said unmannered comments and threatened that he would beat me. Then when I told him I didn’t want to work for him anymore, he told me “bring KD 300 then I will release you.” I don’t have money to pay him. I need to be releases. Please help me. Please advise; I need help. My sponsor threw me out of his home, and I now am staying at a masjid. I don’t have any other place to sleep. I need help. I am using my friend’s account in order to seek help.
Response: Domestic Employment law of 2015 also states that food, accommodation, clothing and health care is provided by the employer. I am sorry to hear that you are being treated this way. If you are a domestic worker and you are dealing with similar issues, please call your country’s embassy. If you do not have an embassy in Kuwait, please seek help at the shelter.
Scared for my safety
Email: I am currently working as a khadama or a nanny here in Kuwait for about seven months now. My employer doesn’t allow us to use a mobile phone and to have possession of our passports and civil IDs. Now they found out that we are using mobile phones secretly, and they took away all our mobiles except for this one. I want to ask if I am in the right position to ask my employer to return me to my agency, or what should I be doing? They are treating us differently now and I’m scared a lot for my safety. I am scared that they will be doing desperate measures in order to hold me in captivity or put me in jail because of their anger. Please send some advice asap.
Response: Now there has been a lot of discussion about the ‘new law for Filipinos’. It is not a new law, but a treaty signed by the Philippines and Kuwait that mentions a few issues that were not mentioned in the Domestic Employment law such as having the right to own a mobile phone. Of course your passport and ID shall remain with you and if any time you feel unsafe, please call the police.
I will be writing another article in the next few days that speaks more about the rights of domestic workers. I would also be very happy to share stories like this continuously to raise awareness, or to work with governmental institutes to really make Kuwait a better and safer place for everyone. I love Kuwait and I love how diverse this society is, so if you have any suggestions or stories you want to share, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org. This needs to change, I am confident change is here! Also please remember to say ‘Thank You Kindly’.
By Attorney Fajer Ahmed