In reaction to a Government of India decision to make it mandatory for employers in Kuwait wishing to hire female domestic workers from India to submit a $2,500 (KD 720) Bank Guarantee as security deposit with the Embassy of India in Kuwait with immediate effect, MP Kamel Al-Awadhi has revealed the Foreign Ministry summoned the Indian Ambassador to Kuwait Sunil Jain to inquire about the significance of the move and its legality in light of the labor agreements, particularly since the latter has no right to impose such guarantees on Kuwaitis, considering it a blatant interference in the country’s affairs, reports Arab Times, citing Al- Seyassah daily.
Al-Awadhi had called on the government to consider reducing the number of Indians in Kuwait, in protest against the decision. He described the Indian measure provocative saying it could encourage other countries to adopt similar steps and even demand higher financial guarantees from Kuwaitis.
MP Faisal Al-Kandari said the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor should consider stopping recruitment of manpower from India and stop issuing work permits to ‘put pressure on India’ to rescind the decision. He added the Indian embassy must be asked to explain the move.
The lawmaker also urged the Foreign Ministry to cooperate with its counterparts in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to take coordinated action against New Delhi over its financial guarantee decision. Earlier it was reported, in an unprecedented move that could spark ‘crazy costs’ overseas maids and domestic workers hiring bureaus in coordination with the Indian Embassy in Kuwait had started imposing KD 720 ‘bank guaranty’ before processing any such transaction.
Regarding the issue of maids that has already reached a groundbreaking level, the move by the domestic workers bureaus was met with rejection and protest at the private and official levels, while several citizens had stopped bringing maids from India.
The issue came up when one domestic workers bureau in Sharq area set a new condition which required the sponsors to provide a certified three-year bank guarantee of KD 720, indicating the sponsor has no right to withdraw the sum until the maid hired by the sponsor leaves the country.
According to the domestic workers bureaus, the new condition aims to safeguard the rights of the employee (maids) and to facilitate their needs by securing the funds that will enable them to exit the country in case there’s disagreement between the maid and the employer. The Indian Embassy sources confirmed the issue without officially claiming responsibility.
They explained the new procedure was endorsed in coordination with the Embassy and stakeholders (about 350 domestic workers bureaus), noting the step was aimed at getting rid of implications of the actions of some workers who decide to return to their country due to personal issues or bad working conditions, among other reasons.
Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior Sheikh Muhammad Al-Khaled had commissioned the Assistant Undersecretary for Citizenship and Travel Documents Affairs Major-General Mazen Al-Jarrah to coordinate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to resolve the situation. The sponsorship (Kafala) system in the Gulf needs a good dust-off to provide workers and employers protection from fraud and abuses, says a report in Arab News.
The scandal over the alleged abuses of expatriates working on the Word Cup 2022 projects in Qatar has placed the GCC in the crosshairs of international human rights organizations that already take a dim view how the sponsorship system works in the region. Labor Ministries of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) recently met in Kuwait to tackle the sponsorship system and other migrant worker issues.
There is no question that the sponsorship system is in dire need of reform and some Arab countries have abolished the system while others are considering it. The system has become ripe for abuses and workers can’t switch jobs without the permission of their employers, thus forcing some workers in a perpetual state of abuse.
And workers — some 15 million throughout the Gulf — can’t simply quit and leave the country unless they have ‘exit’ visa. While it’s unknown whether labor ministers at the GCC summit would reconsider these requirements, there is a consensus that the systems need change and must be more humane to workers.
For example, potential changes could include a 48-hour workweek, private quarters and a day off for domestic workers, although enforcement would be difficult under the best of circumstances. Yet major labor policy issues would require unprecedented cooperation among all GCC states.
A pay scale for the different categories of workers must be unified. Would migrant workers receive relatively healthy salaries that are offered in Dubai and Kuwait, or more modest wages such as in Saudi Arabia? Would workers accommodation be consistent from countries to countries? Labor ministers agreed to establish a certification program that assesses the skills of workers originating from Pakistan, India and the Philippines.
In essence, countries would test workers to determine their skill level and issue certification for that purpose, while Kuwait and UAE already established an experimental certification program in which its neighbors may join by the end of 2015 to end the problem of substandard workers in driving and construction sectors that threaten the safety of families.
Arab societies are prone to slow incremental changes but the spotlight on Qatar World Cup 2022 projects prompts the GCC countries to move quickly to resolve these lingering problems that are a product of an outdated system.