By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: More than 100 newly-hired domestic helpers from the Philippines arrive today (June 8, 2021); the second group of arrivals from the Philippines of newly-recruited workers arranged by Kuwait to fill the shortage of domestic helpers in the country. The first batch of helpers arrived on May 24, 2021. “They have planned twice-weekly flights from Manila to bring back returning domestic helpers and newly-hired household service workers,” a source from the Philippine Embassy told Kuwait Times yesterday.

In February this year, Ali Al-Shammouh, Secretary General of Kuwait Union for Domestic Labor Offices, told Kuwait Times there is a shortage of approximately 160,000-180,000 helpers. He said the shortage existed even prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but worsened when the airport was closed during the lockdown last year. Many domestic helpers left the country following the reopening of the airport on one-way tickets.

The arrival of newly recruited domestic workers took place after the Philippines agreed to open the recruitment of household service workers from Manila in April this year. Sending domestic helpers to Kuwait from the Philippines was temporarily suspended due to problems encountered by some of its workers, prompting Manila to demand more protection and come up with a new tri-party agreement, which will be used when the workers come for employment. Provisions of the contract, mostly dictated by Manila, safeguard the rights of both workers and employers.

A source at Kuwait International Airport told Kuwait Times they are expecting more than 100 newly-hired Filipino domestic helpers to arrive today along with returning domestic workers. “This is the only flight arriving from the Philippines, a planeload of housemaids, as other workers are still barred from entering the country,” the source added.

According to a recruitment agency secretary who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the newly-hired workers will go straight to hotels to quarantine for 14 days. Staff of National Aviation Services (NAS) and BelSalamah online platform will handle domestic helper arrivals at the airport. As per Kuwait rules, the helpers must undergo a swab test after a day’s stay at the hotel. There will be no face-to-face interactions with the recruitment agency owners or secretaries during the 14-day quarantine, but they will be in contact through SIM cards provided by the airlines free of charge, with free local calls and Internet connection.

One to three days before the end of the 14-day quarantine, the workers will undergo another PCR test. If the test is negative, the hotel will automatically inform their employers about the end of quarantine, and they will be collected by the employers from the hotel. Then the employers are required to bring the workers to their respective agencies for other formalities. The workers are informed of their rights and are told to call the agency for assistance if needed.

Employers must pay around KD 900 charge for recruitment plus around KD 500 for the 14-day hotel quarantine. In the event of a positive PCR result, they are required to stay at the hotel for an additional 14 days. “A new domestic helper who arrived on May 24 did not pass the swab test, so the employer will pay KD 490 again for 14 days of additional quarantine, because she will not be allowed to leave the hotel until she is clear,” the agency secretary said.

Tri-party provisions
Provisions in the new tri-party 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.

Recruitment ban
On Jan 3, 2020, the Philippines implemented a ban on sending domestic workers to Kuwait following the death of Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende on Dec 28, 2019. The ban was lifted a month later after consultations with the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the filing of appropriate charges against the perpetrators and after Manila and Kuwait City agreed the full implementation of a harmonized employment contract for Filipino domestic workers.

On Dec 30, 2020, a death verdict by hanging was handed by the criminal court to a Kuwaiti woman who killed Villavende. The woman’s husband was sentenced to four years in jail for covering up and not reporting the crime. As of June 2020, there were nearly 680,000 domestic workers in Kuwait – 325,000 from India and nearly 150,000 from the Philippines.

Kuwait had allowed the return of domestic helpers with valid visas but stuck abroad starting Dec 7, 2020. An online platform named ‘BelSalamah’ was launched to facilitate the return of domestic workers from so-called ‘high-risk’ countries, in line with specific procedures and mechanisms that take into account the required health measures.

The platform aims to decrease the cost of return that the sponsor will pay, in addition to relocating the 14-day quarantine to be in Kuwait instead of a transit country. Local and their international partner agencies are allowed to charge employers up to KD 990 for hiring new domestic helpers. As of June 2020, there were nearly 680,000 domestic workers in Kuwait – 325,000 from India and nearly 150,000 from the Philippines.