Despite the introduction by the Kuwaiti legislator on 24 June 2015 of a new law theoretically recognizing workers’ enforceable labor rights, the right to form or join a union is still denied, workers keep being employed under the kafala system of visa sponsorship and abuses continue to occur in the Gulf country. Despite the fact that the recently approved law has banned the incredibly common practice of employers confiscating domestic workers’ passports, they still hold effective and exclusive control of their employees in light of the fact that under the kafala system domestic workers cannot change employer without the consent of their previous one. Under this system, domestic workers who leave their jobs before the end of their contract without their sponsor’s consent are considered to have “absconded,” a crime under Kuwaiti law. They can be arbitrarily detained, fined or sentenced to imprisonment.
In this respect, the situation of exploitation and denial of the most basic human and working rights of Kuwaiti domestic workers is more relevant than ever. On 31 March 2017, newspapers worldwide reported the case of an Ethiopian domestic worker who fell from the 7th floor and her employer filmed the whole scene without intervening to help. The Kuwaiti woman filmed as her house cleaner landed on a metal awning and survived, then posted the incident on social media and declared to police that the lady was attempting suicide. Nonetheless, the domestic worker survived the fall and declared, instead, that she was trying to save herself from the employer trying to kill her and that is why she fell out of the window. It is only one of numerous cases registered in the recent past. Another example occurred on 6 March 2017 when a couple was arrested for torturing their domestic worker, imprisoning her in their home and depriving her of food until she managed to escape and seek help, as occurs with hundreds of maids that every year escape their employers over abuse. This situation is so common that the Government has set up shelters for them while some seek help from their embassies.