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More firms charged with visa trafficking – Efforts to ‘clean up’ the labor market
May 5, 2014, 12:02 am
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Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Hind Al-Subaih ordered legal action against 30 companies on charges of human trafficking. The firms are part of 2,499 whose files were recently examined under suspicions of involvement in violating workers’ rights. The report does not specify the number of workers involved in visa trafficking scams. It indicates that there are 1,253 expatriate employees registered in the files of the 30 companies who were referred to the Public Prosecution on human trafficking charges, which are punishable with up to life in prison.
 
The recent step follows a trend that saw hundreds of companies prosecuted since the beginning of the year on accusations of human trafficking. The firms are accused of selling visas issued illegally to workers who find themselves without a job as soon as they come to Kuwait. They include fake companies, or firms that are not functioning but their licenses are used to issue visas through illegal means.
 
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor has been increasing efforts to ‘clean up’ the labor market and detect violating companies, as part of preparations to move its labor department into the newly established Public Labor Authority, Al-Qabas reported yesterday quoting a ministry insider. Kuwait is home to more than 2.5 million expatriates, the majority of whom are from other Arab or Asian countries. According to the US State Department’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons report, “Many of the migrant workers arriving for work in Kuwait have paid exorbitant fees to recruiters in their home countries or are coerced into paying labor broker fees in Kuwait that, by Kuwaiti law, should be paid by the employer-a practice that makes workers highly vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage, once in Kuwait.” Quite often, Kuwaiti employers bring unskilled workers into Kuwait on commercial visit visas but fail to transfer these to work permits or residency permits.
 
This leaves workers unprotected under labor regulations and vulnerable to abuse, including conditions of forced labor and servitude. Kuwait’s sponsorship law restricts workers’ movements and penalizes them for “running away” (also known as absconding) from abusive workplaces; as a result, domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to forced labor inside private homes. Kuwait is ranked as a Tier 3 country, the lowest possible ranking, by the US State Department over the issue.
 
Tier 3 countries are considered ones that “do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.” In what may be seen as a move to address the issue, at least in part, the Kuwait government plans to set up a Labor Public Authority, that will handle all labor recruitment for companies in Kuwait. Recent news suggest the authority is nearly ready to begin operating but it’s unclear exactly what authority the new government body will have or how it will change the kafala system in Kuwait where by individual businesses currently sponsor their employees
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