As I explained in last week’s column, I receive a lot of legal queries. The most common issues are inevitably labor related. There’s a large expat community in Kuwait, because a lot of people move to Kuwait to work. The Kuwaiti market has a wide variety of sectors and a large number of job openings, yet Kuwait still ranks high as one of the worst places to live and work. Why? It is simple; some big companies take advantage of their employees and this is why I have decided to answer questions in a way that can help readers avoid such situations with a few adjustments here and there.
Question 1: I just recently got a job in Kuwait and even though I have an official signed contract with my employer, my employer has brought me into Kuwait on a tourist visa. My employer states that this is the regular procedure in Kuwait and that it will take up to three months for me to get my proper working visa. Is this acceptable?
Answer: Always always always make sure you have a valid working visa. Do not work in Kuwait with a tourist visa, even if it is just temporary. Some companies will prolong the requirements from the government to finalize your work visa. Some companies try to avoid the process because they cannot legally hire any more expats, they have reached their cap and need to hire a certain percentage of Kuwaiti employees, or they are avoiding registering you for now, so when they come to terminate you the process becomes easier and you lose your rights as an employee.
Question 2: How do I protect myself and what should I be aware of when I first start a job in Kuwait?
Answer: Always get someone you trust to translate your work permit. This is a paper issued from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. If any dispute happens between your employer and you, this paper will be used to prove your job position and your salary. (Although in court you can prove your job position and your salary in other ways, your work permit is the official paper.)
A lot of companies will purposely register their employees with lower wages than they actually make, so that when the work relationship ends they will give them their benefits according to the wages registered and not to what they really earn. Let me give you an example, let’s say you make KD 300 a month, and let’s say you were terminated, here the company needs to pay you KD 900, instead if you are registered under the work permit to be making KD 150, the company will pay you KD 450. As lawyers we know ways around this, to obtain the remaining money, but you don’t always want to hire a lawyer.
It might seem obvious but do not sign anything in a language you cannot understand, unless the translation is alongside/on the same page that you are signing as well, and the English clearly says that there is an Arabic version.
Bank accounts and not signing anything
A very common mistake I see as well is employees allowing their companies to open bank accounts in their names, and keep the ATM/KNet card with the company. The company does this, so they can transfer salaries and benefits to the accounts then withdraw the money back, while paying the employee in cash. When something happens and the client wants to prove that they were never paid their benefits, they can’t prove it, in fact the company can prove otherwise, because they would have deposited the amounts in your account and will have proof.
Try to get as much as you can in writing, your salary, your contract, your resignation letter and so on.
I hope the above was helpful, if you have any further questions about the topic or any other legal topics, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Fajer Ahmed