Kuwait mulling minimum wage law for maids

Thu May 13, 2010 3:50am EDT
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By Diana Elias

KUWAIT (Reuters) - Lucy Cometa, a Filipina maid in Kuwait, hasn't had a single day off work as a domestic helper for four years but considers herself lucky because she is paid regularly and gets to take breaks during her workday.

Kuwait, long criticized along with other oil-exporting Gulf states for its treatment of foreign workers, introduced a minimum monthly wage of 60 dinars ($209) in April in a move that affects hundreds of thousands of Asian laborers.

But the new minimum wage, a first for Kuwait, has come under fire because it excludes roughly 560,000 domestic workers, prompting lawmakers to consider a separate law to set a minimum salary for maids and impose rules protecting them from abuse.

"This is the first step. It is a most welcome legislation because it protects our household workers," said Vivo Vidal, the labor attache at the Philippines Embassy, adding he wanted the bill to guarantee wage payment.

Draft legislation currently on the table would set a minimum wage of 45 dinars for household staff such as maids, drivers and cooks, and extend them protection from overwork, non-payment of salary and physical abuse.

That could mean a world of difference for many who work 16-hour days without breaks.

"They need to treat them well," Cometa, who earns a salary of 60 dinars but is not granted days off, said of less fortunate domestic workers. "Some of them, they don't give them food or rest. Sometimes they wake them at night to work."

The new rules, if passed into law, would limit working hours to eight a day and bar employers from holding the passports of workers. It would also give workers one day a week and public holidays off from work.   Continued...