With the decision last week by Interior Minister Sheikh Mohammad Al-Khaled Al-Sabah to set the minimum wage for domestic helpers in Kuwait at KD60 per month, Kuwait became the first Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) state to set a minimum wage for its hundreds of thousands of mainly Asian domestic helpers.
The landmark law, which was adopted by parliament last year, applies to maids, baby-sitters, cooks and household drivers, and offers them unprecedented rights. Besides a minimum of eight working-hours per day and overtime if they work extra hours, the new law stipulates mandatory off each week and a 30-day paid annual leave. The law also entitles domestic helpers to an end of service indemnity equal to a month’s pay for each year of service and bans the hiring of maids under 20 years and above 50 years of age.
In setting byelaws to the law on domestic helpers, the Ministry of Interior also mandated that offices recruiting maids from overseas must submit a bank guarantee worth KD40,000 valid for two years at the time of establishing the office or renewing its license. This decision also sets the procedures for settling disputes between maids, their employers or offices, which are required to provide an employment contract for them. The interior ministry’s domestic helpers department has also been entrusted with the powers to resolve such disputes within three months. The law also stipulates one maid for families of up to four, two maids for families comprising five to eight members and three maids for families consisting of more than eight people.
In a related vein, the Parliament has also passed another law to set up a shareholding company to recruit domestic helpers. Under the new law, 60 percent of the proposed company’s shares will be given to the Union of Cooperative Societies and 10 percent each to four government agencies including Kuwait Investment Authority, Public Institution for Social Security, Public Authority for Minors Affairs and Kuwait Airways.
Rights activists have applauded Kuwait’s new legislation and urged other GCC states to introduce similar legislation to tackle the alleged widespread abuse of domestic helpers in the six-nation bloc. According to the latest available figures, there are around 600,000 domestic helpers in Kuwait, who form a quarter of the 2.4 million domestic workers employed in the GCC countries, the vast majority of who are of Asian origin.