Parliament agrees in principle to new rules, but sponsor system will remain.
Kuwait's parliament has approved in principle a new labour law that provides the emirate's 2.35 million foreign workers better conditions but fails to scrap the controversial sponsor system.
Of the 44 members present, 43 voted for the bill while one abstained. If approved in the second and final reading after two weeks, the bill will replace a 45-year-old law that was criticised as being favourable to employers.
The bill, which has been under revision in parliament for more than a decade, stipulates more rights for labourers working in the private sector including better annual leave, end of service indemnities and holidays.
It also stipulates tougher penalties, including jail terms, for businessmen who trade in visas and who recruit expatriate workers and then fail to provide them with jobs, and those who fail to pay salaries regularly.
Kuwait is home to 2.35 million foreigners, more than two-thirds of them Asians, and over one million native citizens.
The bill requires the government to introduce a minimum wage for certain jobs, especially in the lower-paid categories.
During the debate, a number of MPs criticised the bill as still being favourable to employers and called for the introduction of a mandatory minimum wage.
"Under the bill, employers can still fire their staff easily. We must involve the judiciary in such matters," said Islamist MP Mohammad al-Mutairi.
"There must be a minimum wage especially for poor expatriate labourers in the law which should also guarantee they obtain their pay regularly," added MP Adnan Abdulsamad.
The bill fails to address the much-criticised sponsor system under which all foreign workers must be sponsored by a Kuwaiti employer, thus keeping expatriates at the mercy of their bosses. Other oil-rich Gulf states apply the same system.
Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Bader al-Duwaila said in September the emirate was considering alternatives for the system to meet international labour standards.
The statement came after violent protests by foreign workers demanding better conditions.
Parliament's human rights committee had also called for a review of the sponsorship system to try to stop employers from abusing hundreds of thousands of foreign labourers.
Following the unrest in July, the government introduced a minimum monthly wage of 40 dinars ($150) for cleaners and 70 dinars ($261) for security guards.
However, the ruling applies only to those working for companies on government contracts.
The average monthly pay for Kuwaiti citizens is around 1,000 dinars ($3,740).
A two day weekend and reduced working hours would be swell!