Kuwait, first Gulf state to provide rights to domestic workers

Interior Minister decree sets minimum labour standards, including wages, working hours, holiday, end-of-service benefits. Happy, human rights groups want to see legislation extended to all Gulf states.

Kuwait City (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Kuwait is the first Gulf state to set a minimum wage for its hundreds of thousands of mostly Asian domestic workers.

Following accusations of widespread abuse, Interior Minister Sheikh Mohammad Khaled Al-Sabah issued a decree setting the minimum wage at 60 dinars (US$ 200) a month and granting domestic staff other rights.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other rights groups welcomed the decision, urging other Gulf states to follow suit to tackle widespread abuses.

The decree, which sets out measures to implement a landmark law adopted by parliament last year, also requires employers to pay overtime for any extra hours worked.

It also 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 contract.

The estimated 600,000 maids in Kuwait are among at least 2.4 million working at homes across the Gulf. They are not covered by ordinary labour legislation.

HRW and other groups have documented widespread abuses, including non-payment of wages, long working hours with no rest days, physical and sexual assault, and no clear channels for redress.

HRW has repeatedly urged Gulf states to reform their labour laws to include domestic workers and provide them equal protection as other workers.

It also calls for changes to the kafala or sponsorship system, which has been criticised as a form of bonded labour or even slavery because it restricts most workers from moving to a new job before their contracts end unless their employers agree.

Workers are trapped as employers also hold their personal papers.