Migrant workers demonstrate in Kuwait


Over 700 expatriate workers held a sit-in outside the Ministries' Complex in downtown Kuwait in protest against their 'inhumane' living conditions and delayed salary payment for three months.


The labourers, who belonged to three major construction companies, called on the labour minister to compel their employers to pay their backdated wages, which they claim to not have received since June this year. In a letter to the minister, the workers also maintained that their employers have not made overtime payments for almost a year.


They also stated that they have been reeling under the heavy burden of debts as a result of shouldering family responsibilities, and are now subject to paying off large amounts in debts.


The labourers also said that they live in dire straits and many of them have expired visas as their employers have failed to renew them.


The workers also accused the employers of withholding their passports and not allowing them to resign from services or travel abroad to visit families in their home countries.


As a result, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor's Assistant Undersecretary for Labour Affairs summoned the owners of the three firms and made them sign pledges to pay the overdue salaries of workers. The ministry has also allowed the employers a 15-day grace period to settle the problem or face Times.


Analysis and forecast: increasing risk

Kuwait has taken steps to improve its record with regards to preserving the rights of expatriate workers, who form the majority of the work-force. This was partly due to mounting international pressure against all GCC states. The very rare demonstration by expatriate workers reflects the dire conditions that they have endured, even at some of the country’s biggest companies. Although the immediate payment problem has been resolved by the intervention of the labour ministry, the long-term and much more serious problem of the labour conditions is yet to be resolved. This includes a drastic improvement of the living conditions of labourers as well as a system to guarantee their payments. The UAE has improved the conditions of its labour force due to mounting conditions and although not yet seen as adequate by some international human rights organizations, Kuwait needs to update its laws and their enforceability to improve both the living conditions of expatriate labourers and payment of their salaries.


Failing to do this will result in further pressure by both international organizations, foreign governments as well as a significant unrest within the expatriate workers community, who form the majority of the Kuwaiti population.