HRW urges Gulf states to follow Kuwait on maid rights

AFP , Wednesday 1 Jul 2015

Kuwait's first-ever legislation on the rights of domestic helpers is a "major step" that other Gulf states should follow, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.

Kuwaiti authorities should rigorously implement the law, passed last week, and address remaining legal and policy gaps that discriminate against domestic workers and put them at risk, the New York-based rights group said.

The new law 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 the contract, among other rights, HRW said.

"Kuwait's parliament has taken a major step forward by providing domestic workers with enforceable labour rights for the first time," said Rothna Begum, Middle East rights researcher at HRW.

"Now those rights need to be made a reality in Kuwait, and other Gulf states should follow Kuwait's lead and protect the rights of their own domestic workers," she said.

Mainly Asian domestic helpers form around a third of Kuwait's two million foreign workers, and rights groups have criticised their exclusion from the labour law.

HRW has previously documented many abuses against domestic workers, including non-payment of wages, long working hours with no rest days, physical and sexual assault, and no clear channels for redress.

The watchdog raised concerns about some weaknesses in the new law.

It provides for a maximum 12-hour working day but does not specify "hours of rest," nor details for sick leave and fails to set out enforcement mechanisms, HRW said.

"Kuwait has set an important precedent for its Gulf neighbours by accepting that domestic workers' rights should be protected in law," Begum said. "Other Gulf countries should follow suit."

Kuwaiti MPs also passed a law related to the establishment of shareholding companies for the recruitment of domestic helpers in a bid to cut the cost for citizens and resolve problems associated with private recruitment offices.

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