For foreign workers, COVID-19 turns Kuwait ‘paradise’ into hell

London - Kuwaiti authorities should immediately end the suffering of thousands of foreign workers whose salaries have been delayed and are being ill-treated during the coronavirus pandemic, says ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies.

Private companies in Kuwait are grossly violating the rights of these workers, including regular payment and adequate accommodation, ImpACT explains, adding that the steps taken by the government to date are insufficient.

There are about 3.4 million foreign workers in Kuwait, compared to a native population of around 4.8 million. Kuwait has long been a destination for foreign workers of all nationalities, but the coronavirus crisis has had numerous negative effects and is starting to change this perception of the country.

ImpACT International monitored a sit-in organized by more than 200 foreign workers in the Al Mahboula area in the Ahmadi governorate, south of Kuwait City, due to non-payment of salaries for four months.

The workers, who come from Egypt India Mozambique and Zimbabwe, are employed by Explomo Technical Services, which they said tried to force them to return to their homes without back pay.

"The last time most of the employees in the company, including me, received their salaries was last February," said a 39-year-old Egyptian worker, A.T., who has worked for the company for four years. He added that although workers were promised they’d be paid, management has not kept its promises.

The last time most of the employees in the company, including me, received their salaries was last February. Although we were promised we’d be paid, management has not kept its promises.

-An Egyptian worker at Explomo Technical Services

"We were shocked when our managers asked us to return to our home countries, promising to send us our money there," the Egyptian worker added. “We strongly rejected that.”

The management of the company forced them to evacuate the building where they live within four days (ending today), without providing an appropriate alternative place to stay or giving them the pay they are owed.

Foreign workers at Khalid Ali Al Kharafi and Brothers Construction and Contracting Co., also in the Al ​​Mahboula area, face similar violations of their rights and irregular payment.

"We have not received our salaries for two months," said a Jordanian worker (I.T.), adding that they live in dire conditions.

The administration of the construction company placed its workers on unpaid leave on 25 April, their passports were confiscated and their rent no longer was paid. Accordingly, the workers filed a complaint with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour. They have not yet received a response.

It is estimated that about 500,000 expatriate employees have lost their jobs in Kuwait during the past three months, and there are fears the number will rise. More than a 100,000 foreign workers have left Kuwait recently amid complaints that thousands of others are stuck in closed areas in Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh, Al Mahboula and other regions of the country with no income.

Exacerbating the situation is the fact that government bodies are late in paying companies that contract with them, including cleaning and security services with thousands of workers.

After living in areas where lockdown has been imposed for more than two months, workers began a sit-in protest in the streets of Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh and other areas. The Kuwaiti government asked them to wait for ministries and government institutions to re-open before being paid.

Late intervention by Kuwait’s Public Authority for Manpower and the government's failure to pay debts to the companies further complicate the situation and worsens the conditions of foreign workers, ImpACT International says.

Although Maryam Al-Aqeel, minister of Social and Economic Affairs, agreed to empower the Public Authority for Manpower to receive complaints related to disputes with employers. However, this is insufficient, ImpACT International says, adding that more effective measures are needed.

Nevertheless, ImpACT welcomed Al-Aqeel's handling of many complaints, in which many companies were found guilty of human trafficking, with legal action taken against them.

In addition, ImpACT expressed satisfaction with the authority’s call for the government to suspend financial guarantees and prescribed payments for companies found to abuse the rights of foreign workers.

Finally, ImpACT International calls on the Kuwaiti government to redouble its efforts to force all companies to commit to honoring workers' rights, including paying salaries on time, paying for overtime, and assuring safe working conditions and adequate accommodations.

Kuwaiti authorities must fulfill their obligations under international covenants and agreements, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which stipulates in Article 7 that everyone has the right to enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work to ensure safe and healthy working conditions.

Moreover, Kuwait is bound by its obligations under international treaties that protect workers' rights, particularly in times of crisis.

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