Earlier in January 2023, Jullebee Ranara, a Filipino domestic helper working in Kuwait, told her family that she was afraid of her employer’s 17-year-old son. Her friends were concerned about her disappearance when she disappeared the next day.
In less than 24 hours, her charred body and skull were found beside a desert road.
There have been several high-profile cases of domestic worker abuse in Kuwait in recent years. Joanna Demafelis was a Filipina domestic worker who was employed in Kuwait and was a victim of horrific abuse and exploitation. In February 2018, her body was found in a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait. The authorities determined that she had been murdered by her employers, a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife.
In 2016, a video of a Kuwaiti employer beating her Filipina maid went viral, resulting in international outrage and calls for better protection. A Kuwaiti couple was arrested in 2019 for beating their Sri Lankan maid and forcing her to sleep outside with their pets.
There are several common problems faced by domestic workers in Kuwait.
- Exploitation and abuse: Domestic workers are vulnerable to physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, as well as labor exploitation by their employers.
- Inhumane working conditions: Many domestic workers work long hours, have limited access to healthcare, and live in poor housing conditions.
- Lack of legal protection: Domestic workers in Kuwait are not protected by the country’s labor laws and are often not covered by insurance or other benefits.
- Isolation: Domestic workers are often isolated from their families and communities, and may not have access to support networks or the ability to communicate with others.
- Payment issues: Some domestic workers in Kuwait face problems with payment, including late payment or non-payment of wages.
- Restrictions on movement and communication: Domestic workers in Kuwait may have their passports confiscated and be restricted from leaving their place of work, which makes them particularly vulnerable to abuse.
- Inadequate legal representation: Domestic workers who face abuse or exploitation may not have access to legal representation, or may be reluctant to report the abuse due to fear of retaliation.
Why do domestic workers find jobs in Kuwait and how much are they paid?
There are a variety of reasons why domestic workers choose to work in Kuwait. Some common reasons include:
- Financial need: For many domestic workers, the primary motivation for working in Kuwait is the opportunity to earn a higher salary than they would be able to earn in their home country.
- Career development: For some domestic workers, working in Kuwait provides an opportunity to acquire new skills and gain work experience, which can help to improve their future career prospects. Some of them may wish to embark on a cross-country career move from domestic helpers in Kuwait to caregivers in Canada or Europe.
- Family support: For some domestic workers, the primary motivation for working in Kuwait is to support their families financially. The income they earn while working in Kuwait can make a significant difference in the lives of their loved ones back home.
- Better working conditions: Some domestic workers may choose to work in Kuwait because they believe that the working conditions are better than those in their home country.
- Applicants pay no placement fees: applying for a job in Kuwait does not require financial payment from domestic helper applicants compared to places like in Singapore or Hong Kong.
The minimum wage for domestic workers in Kuwait is not specified by law. However, according to reports, the average salary for domestic workers in Kuwait ranges from 60 to 120 Kuwaiti dinars (KD) per month, which is equivalent to approximately 200 to 400 US dollars.
Depending on a domestic worker’s job responsibilities, experience, and employer, a domestic worker’s salary can vary greatly. Domestic workers may receive higher salaries and better working conditions, while others may be exploited and abused.
In general, it is recommended that domestic workers negotiate their salary and working conditions with their employers before accepting a job offer, and have a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilities. This can help to ensure that they receive fair and just compensation for their work.
Rights of domestic workers in Kuwait
The rights of domestic workers in Kuwait are not well defined, as they are not protected by the country’s labor laws. However, domestic workers are still entitled to certain rights and protections, including:
- Fair treatment: Domestic workers have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, and to be protected from physical, sexual, and psychological abuse.
- Adequate working conditions: Domestic workers have the right to reasonable working hours, adequate rest and sleep, and appropriate living and working conditions.
- Full payment of wages: Domestic workers have the right to receive their wages on time and in full, and to be protected from wage theft and other forms of exploitation.
- Freedom of movement: Domestic workers have the right to freedom of movement and to retain possession of their passports and other personal documents.
- Access to medical care: Domestic workers have the right to access medical care when necessary, including in case of illness or injury.
- Privacy: Domestic workers have the right to privacy and to be free from unreasonable intrusion into their private lives.
- Communication: Domestic workers have the right to communicate with others, including with family and friends, and to have access to a telephone or other means of communication.
Domestic workers in Kuwait can still seek assistance and protection from relevant authorities, NGOs, and other organizations if they are abused or exploited, even though these rights are not guaranteed by law.
Why do Kuwait domestic workers get abused?
Domestic workers in Kuwait can face abuse due to a variety of factors, including:
- Power imbalances: Domestic workers are often in a vulnerable position, working in private homes and dependent on their employers for food, housing, and other basic needs. This power imbalance can make it easier for employers to exploit and abuse them.
- Lack of legal protection: Domestic workers in Kuwait are not protected by the country’s labor laws and are often not covered by insurance or other benefits, which makes them more vulnerable to abuse.
- Cultural attitudes: Some cultural attitudes in Kuwait, as well as in other countries in the region, view domestic workers as less worthy of protection and respect than other workers. This can make it easier for employers to justify abuse and exploitation.
- Economic pressures: Domestic workers may be forced to work long hours and in poor conditions due to economic pressures, such as a need to support their families back home.
- Fear of retaliation: Domestic workers may be afraid to report abuse or exploitation due to fear of retaliation, including the loss of their job or even the risk of violence.
It is important to note that abuse and exploitation of domestic workers is a widespread problem, and not limited to Kuwait or any specific region or country. Addressing these issues requires a comprehensive approach, including stronger legal protections and increased awareness of the rights of domestic workers.
Where they can seek help
Domestic workers in Kuwait who face abuse or exploitation can seek help from the following organizations:
- Embassies or consulates: Domestic workers can contact their country’s embassy or consulate for assistance, including with repatriation if necessary.
- NGOs: There are several non-governmental organizations that provide assistance to domestic workers in Kuwait, such as the Kuwait Society for Human Rights and the Migrant Workers Protection Society.
- Labor departments: Domestic workers can also seek assistance from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor or the General Department of Residence Affairs in Kuwait.
- Hotlines: There are also hotlines available, such as the Kuwait Human Rights Society’s hotlines, which provide support and advice to domestic workers in need.
- Legal representation: Domestic workers who face abuse or exploitation can also seek legal representation, either through NGOs or private lawyers.
It is important for domestic workers to be aware of their rights and the resources available to them, as well as to seek help as soon as possible if they face abuse or exploitation.
Are there labor agreements between Kuwait and countries that send domestic workers
There are labor agreements between Kuwait and some countries that send domestic workers to work in the country. These agreements can help to ensure that domestic workers are treated fairly and have their rights protected while working in Kuwait.
For example, the Philippines and Indonesia have signed labor agreements with Kuwait to ensure the protection and welfare of their citizens who are working as domestic workers in the country. The agreements outline the rights and responsibilities of both employers and employees and include provisions for fair wages, working hours, and living conditions.
Similarly, some other countries, including India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, have signed the Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with Kuwait to regulate the employment of their citizens as domestic workers in the country.
It is important to note that the effectiveness of these agreements can vary and that not all countries have signed agreements with Kuwait. Domestic workers should still be aware of their rights and the resources available to them, regardless of the existence of labor agreements, and should seek assistance if they face abuse or exploitation.
What are the penalties for domestic worker abusers?
In Kuwait, there are laws and regulations that prohibit the abuse of domestic workers, but the enforcement of these laws can be inconsistent. The penalties for abuse of domestic workers can vary depending on the specific circumstances and the severity of the abuse.
In general, the penalties for abuse of domestic workers in Kuwait may include fines, imprisonment, or both. In some cases, employers may also be required to compensate the victim for any damages incurred as a result of the abuse.
It is important to note that despite the existence of laws and regulations, the abuse of domestic workers remains a persistent problem in Kuwait and many other countries. To effectively address this issue, it is necessary to improve the enforcement of existing laws, raise awareness of the rights of domestic workers, and provide effective mechanisms for workers to report abuse and seek assistance.