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Temporary maid business thriving in Kuwait
March 3, 2014, 5:23 pm
Domestic helpers usually work fulltime in their sponsors’ houses in Kuwait. They are hired directly from a labor-exporting countries like Ethiopia, India, Nepal and the Philippines, or sometimes they are hired from local recruitment agencies. But some Filipino domestic helpers work as ‘maids for rent’ on a temporary basis. The muaqqat system was introduced by some local recruitment agencies for employers who do not want to go through the hassles of providing visas for their domestic helpers. The housemaid is paid KD 80 per month, but the agency charges employers KD 150-KD 200 a month.
“I worked as a temporary maid before running away from my employer. I worked for about six months,” said Maxine, a Filipina domestic helper. “I know my boss was paying the agency KD 190, but all I got was KD 80 a month. I was supposed to work and stay with the employer, then after a month they were to return me to my recruitment agency,” she said. “That was the arrangement made between my agency and the employer, but it dragged on for six months. I know some of my colleagues who are still working under the muaqqat system and I hope they’ll stop too. It is unfair because our agencies are earning more money than us. They are milking us,” Maxine told a local daily
Maxine arrived in Kuwait in Oct 2012 and started working as a housemaid immediately. But she left her sponsor after only 20 days. “I told my sponsor to return me back to the agency, which they did. Upon returning to the agency, I told them I wanted to go home. But they demanded KD 900 as recruitment fee. Where do you think I will get that amount? So the agency’s solution was for me to work as a temporary maid. My intention was to work for the money they needed so I could go home. But I couldn’t save anything because I had to send some of my hard-earned money to my family back home. How many years should I work for KD 900 if only KD 80 is given to me monthly? So after six months, when I got the chance, I ran away,” she said.
Maxine was rescued by community leader Ann Abunda and is now waiting to go back home. “She has the travel documents ready and has been fingerprinted to be deported back to Manila. She is more privileged compared to another temporary who is a ‘sex slave’ to a Bangladeshi. She had to sacrifice her morality because I understand she has no choice,” said Abunda, who is also a founding member of Sandigan, a new Filipino community organization. She also confirmed that many Pinay workers are falling into the muaqqat trap. “The muaqqat system is thriving because it’s easier for employers as they only have to pay a bit more. They no longer have to stamp iqamas, so if they don’t like the maid, they can return her back easily without paying KD 800-KD 1000,” she commented.
Mary Jane is the other muaqqat worker Abunda spoke about. Mary Jane worked for seven Kuwaiti employers before finally working as a temporary maid. “But after a few days working as a temporary decided to run away,” she admitted. Mary Jane is now being sheltered by a Bangladeshi man, with free boarding and lodging in exchange of sexual favors. “All I am waiting for is an amnesty so I can go back to the Philippines. I want to go home during the amnesty because I want to come back and work here legally,” she said.
Forced labor is a common practice in Kuwait, especially among migrant workers, according to a US State Department report. Domestic servitude is the most common type of forced labor in Kuwait, the report read. Forced labor conditions for migrant workers included nonpayment of wages, long working hours, deprivation of food, threats, physical and sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as withholding passports or confinement to the workplace. There have been numerous media reports of domestic workers being abused by their sponsors or sustaining significant injuries while trying to escape from their sponsors, and some reports alleged abuse resulted in workers’ deaths. Female domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. Police and courts are also reluctant to prosecute citizens for abuse in private residences.
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