Government to crack down on illegal labour merchants
Kuwait wants to limit work permits for some nationalities, a government minister said on Sunday, following violent protests over the pay that led the Gulf Arab state to deport hundreds of Bangladeshi workers.Bangladeshi airport officials said on Friday more than 1,000 Bangladeshis had been deported from Kuwait, with hundreds more facing a similar fate.
Social Affairs and Labour Minister Bader Al Duwaila said on Sunday several hundreds had been deported. The number did not reach 1,000 after briefing parliament’s human rights committee.
“There are decisions to limit some nationalities. When a certain nationality surpasses others there must be a fair distribution among working nationalities in the country.”
Expatriates make up two-thirds of Kuwait’s population of 3.2 million. Duwaila said the cabinet would discuss a proposal to introduce a monthly minimum wage of KD40 for cleaners and KD70 for civilian security staff to improve workers’ pay.
Some of the protesting workers had said they were asking for KD50 without deductions for visa fees. The protests came against a backdrop of high prices, with workers complaining they could not survive on their salaries once labour agents took a cut or unscrupulous employers deducted housing, medical and meal costs.
Bader Al Duwaila also vowed to tackle residency permit dealers, taking a number of measures against them.
In a Press briefing after attending a meeting for the National Assembly Human Rights Committee in Kuwait, he said that he had received direct instructions from the Deputy Amir and Crown Prince Shaikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah to take the maximum required measures against offenders, whoever they were.
Al Duwaila said that his ministry will initiate as of today, a committee to inspect staff records, which would complete its duties in three months, presenting a report every two weeks in order to carry out necessary measures on these offenders.
Hotlines for citizens and residents have also been set up, with callers not required to mention their identities, he said. He described the move furthermore, as “a little experiment, because the bigger war is against the residency traders.”
Duwaila said his ministry had posted delegates at Kuwait airport to ensure that the deported workers receive the wages they are owed before leaving.
The government has warned it will not tolerate violence, but Duwaila said on Sunday it was equally determined to crack down on “visa merchants,” a reference to agents who recruit Asian labour and violate the terms of the work contracts once the workers are in Kuwait.
He said he was under orders from the leadership to “cut the hand” of any such agent.”
Companies that violate contract terms will also be penalised, he said. The Parliamentary Human Rights Committee backed calls by MPs on Sunday to hold a special session of the house in early September to discuss problems related to the expatriate labour force in the country.
Al Duwaila said the Cabinet will discuss in its upcoming weekly meeting a recommendation to increase the salaries of security guards to KD70, which can be increased further in the future, and that of cleaning workers to KD40.
Asked about demands for finding an alternative to the sponsorship system, Al Duwaila pointed out “such demands are unreasonable since it is impossible for the state to act as sponsor for all expatriates because there should be a sponsor for a specified number of foreigners brought into the country.”
He added there are efforts to make the contract as the worker’s sponsor, not the employee. “The government has no intention to ban the recruitment of certain nationalities, but it might impose temporary restrictions.
However, there is a trend to spread the number of workers amongst all nationalities, as such the Ministry of Interior reached a resolution to ban the hiring of workers of certain nationalities as they already consist the highest population of expatriates in Kuwait,” Al-Duwaila explained.
Meanwhile, members of the Human Rights Committee have submitted a draft bill prohibiting human trafficking. According to the bill, human traffickers are to be jailed for a period of not less than five years, and not more than 10.
In case of committing a crime against an employee, the offender will be jailed for a period from 7 to 10 years. As for the penalty of human traffickers causing permanent injuries to employees, it will be imprisonment for not less than seven years, and not more than 15 years. The draft bill also stipulates the confiscation of illegal profits.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the parliamentary Human Rights Committee Dr Waleed Al-Tabtabaei said “most of the protests witnessed last week were caused by workers of the public sector —around 400,000 individuals, half of whom were Bangladeshis”.
Commenting on governmental contracts, Al Tabtataei said they lack provisions on minimum salaries and there is a large difference in salaries given by different institutions.
Al Tabtabaei said this increment is insufficient, adding that the minimum salary that should be given to ensure a good life is KD50.