KUWAIT: Kuwaitis shop at a market during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, in downtown Kuwait City yesterday. Muslims fasting in the month of Ramadan must abstain from food, drink and sex from dawn to dusk, when they break the fast with a meal known as iftar. — Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat
KUWAIT: Kuwaitis shop at a market during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, in downtown Kuwait City yesterday. Muslims fasting in the month of Ramadan must abstain from food, drink and sex from dawn to dusk, when they break the fast with a meal known as iftar. — Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

KUWAIT: The National Assembly yesterday unanimously passed amendments to the labor law in the private sector raising penalties against employers suspected of trading in visas and those not paying salary on time. The amendments, which increase jail terms and fines against employers who recruit expatriate laborers and fail to provide them jobs, were passed in the two readings without any debate reflecting a total agreement from MPs and the government.

The amendments introduced modifications to penalties in articles 138, 140, 142 and 146. Under article 138, employers are jailed for up to three years and fined between KD 1,000 and 5,000 for recruiting foreigners from abroad or locally but do not provide them with jobs. The amendment raises the fine to between KD 2,000 and 10,000 per worker without increasing the jail term. The same fine also applies to employers who employ foreign workers not on their residency.

Many employers exploit the sponsorship scheme and provide residence permits to foreign laborers not working for them against fees which sometimes exceed KD 1,000 per year. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor has been trying to crackdown on such visa traders and sent dozens to court. But such actions have so far failed to resolve the problem. The Assembly also agreed to amend article 140 which deals with violations against ministry inspectors who make sure the private sector businesses comply with the law. It raised the fine on such violations from the current maximum of KD 1,000 and made it at least KD 500 and up to KD 1,000, setting a minimum fine of KD 500.

The amendment aims at providing enough protection for ministry inspectors to help them apply the law. MPs also agreed to amend article 142 which originally stipulated a jail term not exceeding six months and a fine of up to KD 2,000 for those who open an establishment after ministry inspectors have ordered its partial or total closure. The new penalty stipulates a jail term of between one month and six months and a fine of between KD 500 and KD 2,000.

A new paragraph was added to article 146 to give the court the power to fine the employers who delay the payment of salaries. Under the new paragraph, the court will fine such employers one percent of the value of the unpaid salaries every month. This fine however does not restrict the employee to demand any other compensation from the court. The National Assembly also decided to return controversial amendments on the municipality law due to sharp differences between lawmakers. The amendments had been already passed in the first reading two weeks ago but MPs found that the law required many more changes.

The main controversial article was the distribution of electoral districts especially the addition of new residential areas to existing constituencies. The Assembly also unanimously approved an amendment to the penal code under which people who are banned from travel can contest the order in the court within three months.

MPs also agreed to lift the parliamentary immunity of Shiite MP Abdulhameed Dashti to face investigation on two cases. Dashti, who has been living abroad for the past several months, has seen his immunity lifted several times on state security cases. The Assembly accepted a letter from the head of the Public Funds Protection Committee requesting an extension for the panel to complete its report on an investigation into providing state-owned farms to certain people through forgery. Head of the panel MP Abdullah Al-Tiraiji said that one person had obtained 50 commercial licenses and was given 50 large farms based the licenses which were obtained only to get the farms. He said that officials at the agricultural authority assisted him.

By B Izzak