Abdulaziz Ahmed Adem

KUWAIT: The Ethiopian government is committed to resending domestic helpers to Kuwait only after a labor agreement is signed, the Ethiopian ambassador to Kuwait told Kuwait Times. Abdulaziz Ahmed Adem said the Kuwaiti government expressed a desire to again recruit domestic helpers from Ethiopia, but he informed his counterparts that it would take some time to deploy the workers. “The normal process of signing agreements has to take its due course, since we only submitted the draft proposal last week. It depends on the ministry – if they act fast on the agreement, maybe by next month we can start deploying workers,” he said.

Authorities in Kuwait announced they will recruit domestic workers from Ethiopia to cover for a ‘deficit’ after the Philippines banned its citizens from working in Kuwait following the murder of 29-year-old Joanna Demafelis, who went missing in Sept 2016. Her body was found in a freezer earlier this year, bearing signs of torture. Her employers, a Lebanese man and Syrian woman, were sentenced to death last week.

Last year, Kuwaiti police detained a woman for filming her Ethiopian maid falling from the seventh floor without attempting to save her. Rights groups have criticized Kuwait and other Arab countries, where migrant labor is regulated under a system known as kafala. The kafala, or sponsorship, system ties migrant workers’ visas to their employers, prohibiting workers from leaving the country or changing jobs without prior consent.

According to Adem, Addis Ababa wants to ensure that the helpers’ rights will be protected while working in Kuwait. “Last week we sent the draft copy of the new agreement to the ministry of foreign affairs to be signed by both countries. Once approved, the deployment of workers will resume soon,” he added.

Adem said provisions in the draft include: Salary of workers must be given to them based on the prevailing salaries in the market and shouldn’t be less than KD 120; Ethiopian housemaids must work only 8 to 10 hours daily; passports of the workers should be handed to the embassy or preferably retained by the employees; and salaries must be deposited in the bank at the end of the month.

“Almost five years ago, our government stopped sending domestic helpers to the Middle East. There were problems of abuses not only in Kuwait, but in other countries too. We also have the problem of human trafficking, so we banned sending our people to work here and the rest of the GCC. At that time, we wanted to know how we could reorganize labor migration from Ethiopia, so we demanded some agreements to be signed. While we were doing that, our government passed a law on domestic helpers. Our government prefers that Ethiopian workers work only in Ethiopia. But we cannot stop them if they want to work abroad and improve the lives of their families,” Adem said.

Kuwait set a minimum wage of KD 60 ($200) a month for domestic staff in 2016 after the National Assembly passed a law the previous year that limited work hours to eight a day and introduced a mandatory weekend and 30 days of annual leave. Other changes included overtime pay and the need for employers to provide end of service gratuity.

By Ben Garcia