KUWAIT: (From left) Lawyer Bushra Al-Hendal and Sheikha Bibi Nasser Al-Sabah. — Photo by Joseph Shagra

KUWAIT: Niqashna held a civilized debate entitled ‘Domestic workers in Kuwait; have we become modern-day slave owners?’ on Wednesday at promenade culture center in the Promenade Mall in Hawally. Niqashna (our debate) is a community platform for open debates in Kuwait that aims to tackle an array of important social and political issues by engaging all members of society.

The discussion opened with Sheikha Bibi Nasser Al-Sabah,  head of the Social Work Society (SWS), and an activate at the forefront of fighting for the rights of the disenfranchised migrant workers in Kuwait.

She started by explaining human trafficking, saying that it is the trade of humans for the purpose of forced labor, sexual slavery, or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others. “I have been fighting for the workers’ right since 2003 and I am glad that Kuwait is one of the countries that signed the agreement on supporting anti-trafficking,” she said.

“The cases we face in SWS represent pure slavery, where bosses force domestic workers to work after working hours. They use force and threats against the worker, for example threatening to report them absconding from work, which can automatically turn the worker from being a victim to a guilty person,” she added.

Sabah further elaborated on a case that her society is currently working on. “We now have a case for a woman called Rosela, who asked her sponsor to let her go after she was abused and beaten up. The sponsor put a knife on her own chest and told Rosela that she would hurt herself and accuse her. This sponsor has been arrested before for blinding her previous maid. The law has been applied, but it did not protect the next maid, like Rosela who is working for this woman. I think the judiciary must be more rigorous and protective to workers.”

Sabah noted that Kuwait has slavery practices such as freezing the worker’s salary, taking away their freedoms, or threatening them. She added that while there are laws that protect domestic workers, the sponsorship system has been exploited by the sponsors. “How is it fair for a maid who have never received her salary in 11 years? And when she complained, she had to settle for half of her money before they deported her.”

“Embassies do not provide any guideline of workers’ rights, and if they do, it is only in Arabic and English,” she further indicated. “We are now working to provide awareness of workers’ rights in 15 languages so that it can reach everyone. We receive approximately 600 cases per month. The worker cannot reach the employment management office because of the language barrier.”

Meanwhile, lawyer Bushra Al-Hendal argued that workers receive their rights in Kuwait. “We cannot deny that there are cases of injustice on workers, but we cannot say that Kuwait is at the global level of domestic violence,” she said. “Kuwait is a country of law and order. Also, the workers understand their rights through their embassies, which are obliged to learn the laws of the country to educate their people.”

She affirmed that lawyers apply the law even if the complaint comes from the domestic worker against the sponsor. “There are 51 articles of the Domestic Employment Law,” she noted. “Three articles discuss the duties of the worker, 10 discuss the duties of the employer, while 30 articles discuss the organization of offices of domestic labor recruitment.”

Hendal explained that the law today has in fact changed to become against the sponsor. “The Department of Domestic Workers receives complaints from maids who demand their rights,” she said. “Eventually, the worker obtains all his rights including salaries, compensations and even passport. However, if the worker fails to perform his or her duties, the sponsor in that case would not be entitled for a refund of the big amount of money they pay to recruit the worker. Also, we have received many baseless and malicious cases where some workers blackmail their sponsors to get money.”

By Faten Omar