As I have mentioned in my columns and articles multiple times, there are many legal concerns by expats in Kuwait regarding their employment. Kuwait has gone a long way but there is still a lot that we need to work on for us to be a better and more welcoming country. We have regulations and laws, but we need to discuss the issues that we have with the implementation of Kuwait Labor Law and other bylaws regarding expat employees.
There have been issues in the region as well, but today I would like to briefly mention a country that has made tremendous and wonderful changes in the past few years. Qatar is a small and fairly new country, yet they have been extremely successful in international law and politics. It is true that Qatar has been scrutinized in the past for violating human rights law regarding employee rights, but Qatar has changed many of their regulations. This week the head of the legal department at the Qatari Human Rights National Council discussed a new law proposed that regulates the entrance of working expats in the country. I hope that Kuwait can follow suit, not by just enforcing more bylaws but by creating awareness on the laws that already exist. We need to make the law more accessible to those living in the region.
In last week’s column I discussed crimes in Kuwait that could be of a common concern to expats. And although the word crime sounds serious, the crimes that I will be discussing today are extremely common (and I base that on my own humble experience). I use the word crime very loosely to define actions that have punishments by law. These crimes happen in the work field, they are relevant to expat employees in Kuwait, and I think they are both unfair towards expats. There are regulations for both issues, but I really think that Kuwait needs to look into both of these situation from a practical point of view.
Debit Cards/ Illegal Sponsorship
Question: I am a US contractor and my salary is $10,000 that is transferred to my American bank account. Yet my company keeps getting me to sign a yearly contract with my sponsor/kafeel and that document has a salary of KD 1,200. I later found out that they even opened a bank account under my name and they have been placing KD 1,200 in my account on a monthly basis and withdrawing it! Isn’t this illegal?
1. Debit Cards- You would be surprised to know how many employees come to me without knowing that they have bank accounts in Kuwait. Violating employers have a common practice of getting the employees to sign documents or to give them the authority to open up bank accounts on their behalf. These documents are usually in Arabic, and the employees have no idea that they have an active bank account in Kuwait. Their salary as mentioned in their contract at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affair could be less or more than what they are receiving by their employers, their actual salary. Some companies keep the debit cards with them, this constitutes as a crime from the employer, may crimes depending on the action involved. Please check and be careful. To answer the question, yes it is illegal and you can file both criminal charges as well as civil cases against your employer asking for compensation.
2. The other illegal issue here is that you are working under two contracts, one registered just for sponsorship purposes, while the other one is your actual contract. This also a very common practice in Kuwait.
Question: I filed a complaint against my sponsor in Shoon (Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor) but he put a case against me, claiming that I absconded from work, when I didn’t. I actually resigned. He wouldn’t give me my passport back, which he was holding illegally, so I filed a case in the Shoon. To my surprise though he filed an absconding case against me. What can I do or what should I have done to avoid such a thing in the future? What is the punishment for absconding?
Fajer: Absconding cases are now becoming more and more strict in Kuwait towards the employee, and this unfortunately is being abused by violating employers who have other issues against their employees. They don’t want to pay termination indemnity, they might accuse their employees of absconding. How can you avoid this? 1) Always have your termination/resignation in writing 2) If you don’t want to go to work because your employer is violating your rights, and it is not safe for you to stay there, then file a complaint first. Your employer will not be able to accuse of absconding if you have filed a case first.
The punishment for absconding in Kuwait is deportation, it is not looked into by a judge, you will be deported unfortunately.
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By Attorney Fajer Ahmed