I remember when I first started my career as a lawyer. I got a job in one of Kuwait’s finest law firms (technically and morally), and even though it was such an honor, it was overwhelming. There is so much to be nervous about when you first start a job. What to wear? How to treat your colleagues? How will your colleagues treat you? Where should you get your information from? Should you say “I do not know” when you really “do not know” and so on.
I cannot even begin to imagine how overwhelming it would be to start work in a new country. Somewhere you have never been before. To travel a few thousand miles to the Middle East, when you have never been here, never heard the language. To leave your family to face the stereotypes of the Middle East, the stereotypes that are everything from the “luxurious no-tax lifestyle” to the “violent barbarians that oppress women, non-believers and expats”.
Expats continue to be the largest working segment in Kuwait’s society, but it seems like we still have not figured out how to have them as our workforce peacefully. I have been trying to speak up about issues of expat workers for the past few years and although progress is happening, the issues still remain. So today’s article is going to be about the process of getting here.
Question: I got an offer letter via email before coming to Kuwait and I signed it – is it now my contract? I was told I would receive a contract when I came to Kuwait, but I never did.
Fajer: Yes, there is a difference between an offer letter and a contract. An offer letter might have terms and conditions of your job position, but is not a contract. When a contract does not exist, the terms and conditions in the offer can be used to prove the conditions of your job position.
Question: I signed a contract before coming to Kuwait, but when I got to Kuwait, I was told to sign another contract. There are differences in the two contracts. Which contract is my valid contract? Both of them? Or just one?
Fajer: Well, your last signed contract (the one in Kuwait) is your contract now. Your previous contract has no legal implications since you agreed on a new one. I know you might have felt forced and I know it’s unfair, but do not sign on a new contract if you do not agree to the terms and conditions.
Question: I am coming to work in Kuwait in a few months and I want to know what to watch out for when I get in? Any suggestions?
Fajer: Well, the first thing I would suggest you do is check that your visa is correct, as in that it is of the right type. If you are working, you should not be coming in as a tourist. If you are coming to work as a store manager, your visa should not be that of a domestic worker, and so on.
The next thing is please check your work permit. I know that it is in Arabic, but please double check that the information is correct, like your wage and your employer’s name. If there are any governmental officials reading this, may I kindly suggest that work permits be in a language understandable to the employee, possibly English? Also, maybe the employee can sign the work permit, agreeing that the information is correct.
Question: I am coming to Kuwait next week and I want to know who to contact in case of a work emergency? I have heard horrible stories and I just want to make sure I am safe.
Fajer: I highly suggest you know if your country has an embassy in Kuwait. If it does not, where is the nearest embassy? UAE? Qatar? Saudi Arabia? There should be one in the GCC. Have their number saved and contact them in an emergency. Also, please contact the Ministry of Labor and Social affairs for any issues that arise.
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By Attorney Fajer Ahmed