An international rights group has praised Kuwaiti legislators for adopting a new law giving domestic workers enforceable labour rights.
Human Rights Watch said the move is a major breakthrough that should lead other Gulf states to take similar action.
The group said in a statement that Kuwaiti authorities should rigorously carry out the new law and address remaining legal and policy gaps that discriminate against domestic workers and put them at risk.
The law passed by Kuwait’s National Assembly is the country’s first regulating the labour rights of domestic workers. The country has an estimate of more than 660,000 such workers, most of them women from Asia and Africa.
The Kuwait newspaper, Al Jarida, published the text of the new law, which grants domestic workers the right to a weekly day off, 30 days of annual paid leave, a 12-hour working day with rest, and an end-of-service benefit of one month a year at the end of the contract, among other rights.
“Kuwait’s parliament has taken a major step forward by providing domestic workers with enforceable labour rights for the first time,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Now those rights need to be made a reality in Kuwait, and other Gulf states should follow Kuwait’s lead and protect the rights of their own domestic workers.”
Migrant domestic workers in Kuwait constitute nearly a third of the country’s entire workforce yet are excluded from the main labour law that protects other workers’ rights.
A 2010 Human Rights Watch report documented many abuses against domestic workers, including non-payment of wages, long working hours with no rest days, physical and sexual assault, and no clear channels for redress.
The new law will come into force once Kuwait’s Emir has formally approved it and the final text is published in the Official Gazette. The Interior Ministry is required to issue regulations to implement the law within six months of its publication.
Human Rights Watch said despite the new law, Kuwait retains other policies that put domestic workers at risk of exploitation and abuse.
“The new legislation is a start, but domestic workers remain at high risk in Kuwait,” Begum said. “Kuwait should continue improving protections for domestic workers by ending policies that can trap them with abusive employers or punish them for escaping.”
To ensure that the new law is effective, Kuwaiti authorities should raise awareness about it among domestic workers and employers, Human Rights Watch said. They should sanction employers who violate the law and ensure that court reviews of complaints are efficient.
The rights group claimed that Kuwait has gone further than its Gulf neighbors in providing for domestic workers’ rights under law. Qatar, the UAE, and Oman exclude domestic workers from their labour laws.
Bahrain’s 2012 labour law affords domestic workers annual vacations as well as access to mediation in labour disputes – but it fails to provide other basic protections, such as weekly rest days, a minimum wage, and limits on working hours.
Saudi Arabia adopted a regulation in 2013 that grants domestic workers nine hours of rest in every twenty-four, with one day off a week, and one month of paid vacation after two years. But domestic workers can be required to work up to 15 hours a day, whereas Saudi labor law limits other workers to 8 hours of work daily.
“Kuwait has set an important precedent for its Gulf neighbors by accepting that domestic workers’ rights should be protected in law,” Begum said. “Other Gulf countries should follow suit.”For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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