By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: The Philippine Embassy in Kuwait has confirmed that expatriate employers who want to hire Filipino domestic helpers should be earning a minimum monthly salary of KD 2,500. According to an embassy source, Kuwaiti employers are not included in the new salary requirement clause as they already earn a minimum salary of more than KD 1,500, and also receive government subsidies for food and allowances for their children.

The embassy source, who wished to remain anonymous, said the requirement will be included in the new tri-party contract which will be signed between employers and workers. “This new policy protects the welfare of Filipino domestic helpers. The cost of living in Kuwait is very high and expats are also paying rent and a lot more. Even if their salary is around KD 1,500, it will not be enough to cover everything including paying their domestic helpers,” the source explained.

“We want to implement this rule to avoid non-payment of salaries, and the Demafelis case was a huge lesson for us,” she added. The embassy official was referring to a case in 2018 of housemaid Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found inside a freezer in a Maidan Hawally apartment. The convicted murderers of the maid were two expats, a Lebanese man and a Syrian woman, who fled to their respective countries after the brutal killing.

Demafelis’ body was found more than a year after her expat employers abandoned their apartment in 2016. “This clause seeks to avoid the repeat of gruesome murders of our compatriots, which were unfortunately committed by expats,” the embassy source added. The official was asked if the Philippine Embassy has started processing new job orders of domestic helpers coming from the Philippines. “Yes, the Kuwaiti government has already started the processing of visas for new domestic helpers, but only returning housemaids are currently being allowed to arrive,” she said.

On the Kuwaiti government’s directive to allow the entry of people with approved vaccines only, the official said the recent order from the ministry is only for Kuwaitis and their companions. “The order is only directed to Kuwaitis and people traveling with them, like housemaids, and not to all non-Kuwaiti residents. But with regards to our workers, I think we will clarify to them that most of the vaccines in the Philippines are from China,” she said.

Meanwhile, a foreign recruitment agency owner told Kuwait Times that the salary condition can easily be skirted by unscrupulous employers. “Expats can simply ask a Kuwaiti to recruit a domestic helper for them. At my agency, we don’t deal with expat employers. We only process cases depending on the embassy’s approval,” she noted. Kuwait and the Philippines recently agreed to a tri-party contract agreement that will be used as basis for the reopening of recruitment of Filipino domestic helpers for their protection.

Provisions in the tripartite contract include providing the housemaid with decent and appropriate housing equipped with all the necessities, providing suitable food and clothing, providing medical treatment in case of sickness pursuant to the healthcare insurance system of Kuwait, salary must be paid at the end of the month – not less than the designated amount signed by both parties, compensating the housemaid in case of injury while during work, employers must issue a valid residency for the duration of contract, handle all the expenses to bring the housemaid, and in case of death, the employer must also bear the expenses of the deceased body.

The new tripartite contract also mentions that the employer is not allowed to assign the worker outside Kuwait without an agreement from the worker. The housemaid is also allowed to use the phone outside working hours, provided that she maintains the privacy of the household and in a manner consistent with public morals. Working hours must be 12 hours daily and employers must allow the housemaid to rest for eight continuous hours.

They must have a fully-paid weekly day off, annual leave, end-of-service benefit or one full month for every year of service, plus a bonus equivalent to one month’s salary annually. The employer is not allowed to keep the passport in their possession. The employer needs to provide an economy ticket to the worker at the end of their contract, and in case of conflict the case will be referred to the Public Authority of Manpower.

The Philippines sends the largest number of household workers to Kuwait after India. As of June 2020, there were nearly 680,000 domestic workers in Kuwait – 325,000 from India and nearly 150,000 from the Philippines. Local and their international partner agencies are allowed to charge employers up to KD 990 for hiring new domestic helpers.