KuwaitOther News

‘Housemaids to go’ thrive during pandemic in Kuwait

By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: Online businesses are booming during the pandemic – even those providing household help. Kuwait Times met some domestic helpers working for a company that delivers housemaids to the doorsteps of Kuwaiti houses. “We are a legal company and are gradually introducing a new way of delivering housemaid services ‘to go’,” said the owner, who chose to remain anonymous.

“This pandemic is a blessing in a way, because household workers can now work in homes of Kuwaitis at an hourly rate,” he said. “It means no more mistreatment and no more complaints of overwork, because workers can only work a maximum of 10 hours daily.”

Housemaids in Kuwait usually remain in their sponsors’ homes throughout the period of contract, which normally is of two years. But with the introduction of housemaids to go, their schedule and work is monitored by a supervisor and salaries are much better than the regular KD 120 monthly. “We are a legitimate company and have a license. We have several workers who are working with us under our visa,” the owner told Kuwait Times.

Pandemic grows business
During the pandemic, his company hired holders of article 18 (private sector) visas as well as article 20 (domestic helper) visas to allow them to earn an extra income. “I see the necessity to help workers. So from July, we accepted those searching for a job even if the work involves cleaning houses or offices,” he said.

Migz and Bebot (names changed), both from the Philippines, are earning KD 300 monthly. “When I was working at a house, I was getting a fixed amount of only KD 120 from my sponsor, but now I am earning KD 300 monthly,” Bebot said. “I earn even more if you include tips from satisfied customers,” she added. She ran away from her sponsor’s home in January, and when she learned about the housemaid to go service, she applied for a janitorial job. The company supplies cleaners anywhere in Kuwait, including homes of Kuwaitis.

Bebot wasn’t hired immediately as she has a record of absconding from her employer. But she was adamant on earning money during the pandemic for her family back home, so she went back to the cleaning company and met Migz there. “Migz, who is a fulltime worker at the company, told me that housework was netting her KD 300 monthly. I was amazed and excited to hear her story, and said I wanted to work like her,” Bebot told Kuwait Times.

Search for better treatment and better pay
“But the difference was that she has legal residence and I don’t. On her insistence, I was finally accepted by the boss, but they warned me they are not liable if I am caught by the police on my way to work. I started in August and I am enjoying it, plus the fact that I am now earning better than being in the house of a Kuwaiti, where you feel like a slave 24/7,” said Bebot.

Bebot said she ran away in January because her employer did not protect her against abuse and the rage of a Kuwaiti woman who harassed her at school. “I went to my friend’s house in Maidan Hawally. I thought I could get a job easily, but I was wrong. I only got a job in July because of the pandemic,” she said.

“I worked with my previous employer for a year, but I was offended by the way I was treated. I normally took the son of my boss to school, but that morning I was mistakenly berated by a Kuwaiti woman because she saw me fighting with the boy in the car. But I wasn’t fighting him at all – I was just telling him to sit down properly in the car.

That woman thought I was slapping the son of my boss, so she approached the car and spat on me. I told her I wasn’t doing anything wrong with the boy, and if she wants she can talk to my boss. I called my boss and when I gave her the phone, instead of talking to her, she smashed my phone on the street and left it broken,” Bebot recalled.

“I told my boss to return me to the agency, but they didn’t, so one day I just left the house of my sponsor and went directly to my friend’s place in Maidan Hawllay,” she said. “Now I am happy that I am earning KD 300 plus, thanks to the cleaning company that accepted me despite the fact that I have an absconding record and visa 20.”

Migz has a different story. She was one of four helpers at a Kuwaiti house, but their sponsors encountered a family problem and eventually separated. They were all permitted to work anywhere they like. “Three of us work as housemaids to go. The good thing is that our accommodation is paid for by our former boss, so the KD 300 monthly we earn from the company we send to our families back home,” she said.

The schedule of housemaids to go is controlled and arranged by a supervisor of the company. “Our income per week is KD 60, but because sometimes we work overtime and on holidays, we can make KD 300 per month. If the customers are happy, we get an additional KD 20-50 in tips. We go twice or thrice a week to each customer’s house. We can only work up to five hours at a house and strictly for cleaning chores,” she said.

Employing a housemaid can cost an employer around KD 1,000 to KD 1,500 if they go through an agency. These are upfront fees in addition to the monthly salary of KD 120 and living expenses. The heavy fees fuel a thriving black market of human trafficking via illegal transfers. Sponsors often transfer a domestic helper when she’s completed her two year contract (or sometimes before that) by charging an illegal transfer fee. A new sponsor pays the fee and ‘acquires’ the services of the helper for another two years.

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