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New deal bans confiscation of passports ... Helpers can live outside employer’s home
 Tue, 25 Nov 2014
 
  KUWAIT CITY (Agencies): Gulf labour ministers Tuesday agreed on minimum terms in the contracts of domestic staff to improve the widely criticised working conditions of over 2.4 million foreign maids, an official said.

The move comes as labour ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), home to 23 million foreigners, mostly unskilled workers, are to meet with their Asian counterparts in Kuwait City this week to discuss the conditions of foreign labour in the oil-rich region.

The new contract entitles domestic workers to a weekly day off, annual leave and the right to live outside their employer’s house, the director general of Kuwait’s Public Authority for Manpower, Jamal Al-Dossari, told AFP. It also limits the working day to eight hours.

The GCC, comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, has repeatedly come under strong criticism by international rights groups for alleged maltreatment of foreign workers, particularly domestic helpers. “The contract has been approved by the ministers, though some countries said they have laws that are better for workers. The ministers agreed that the contract should be the minimum granted to workers,” Dossari said.

Under the contract, domestic helpers are also entitled to end of service indemnity and overtime pay for extra work for a maximum of two hours daily, in addition to banning employers from confiscating the workers’ passports. Ninety international rights and labour groups called in a joint statement Sunday for urgent action to protect migrant workers, especially maids in the Gulf.

The statement charged that millions of Asians and Africans are facing abuses including unpaid wages, confiscation of passports, physical violence and forced labour. GCC countries have also come under fire for the “kafala” system of sponsorship which restricts most workers from moving to a new job before their contracts end unless their employers agree, trapping many workers.

Dossari said that GCC labour ministers and their counterparts from 12 Asian countries at their meeting on Wednesday-Thursday will discuss “ways to bridge the gap between the two groups and resolve problems facing workers.”

India, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, which are the main sources of workers in the Gulf, are among the countries taking part. Enormous challenges facing the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) prompt member states to enhance collaboration and boost economic and human resources development to realize expectations of their peoples, Kuwait’s Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Hind Al-Sabeeh said.

The changes in the labor market and the continuation of financial crises, together with regional conditions, throw dark shadows on the whole scene, Al- Sabeeh told the opening session of the 31st meeting of the GCC Social Affairs and Labor Ministers which opened here on Tuesday.

Amid all this, there is a need for promoting formulas of joint action so that the GCC people would be the focus of development and change, in addition to achieving a renaissance that supports stability and creates a safe and just labor environment. Al-Sabeeh stressed the crucial role of the private sector in development. “Sustainable development cannot be realized without a real participation by the private sector to bridge the gap of national labor, work conditions, production methods and governance,” she said.

Al-Sabeeh noted that Kuwait is paying prior attention to enhancing national labor and fostering the value of work among the people.

The Kuwait Minister also emphasized the dire need to unify GCC efforts to launch joint projects in different sectors and reach the aspired targets, making the long-awaited GCC Common Market a reality.

Efforts She thanked GCC Secretary General Abdullatif Al-Zayani and Director General of the Executive Bureau of the GCC Social Affairs and Labor Ministers Council Aqeel Al-Jassem for the efforts to guarantee success for the 31th ministerial session.

Al-Sabeeh stressed that honoring a host of the GCC companies and institutions in this session comes in recognition of their efforts supporting national labor, setting a role model for others. For his part, Al-Zayanai told the gathering that the session comes in continuation of the projects and joint action programs agreed upon in previous meetings.

Al-Zayani’s statement was delivered to the event by Director of the Labor and Social Service Department at the GCC Secretariat Abdullah bin Muhanna Al- Kharousi on behalf of Secretary General. Honoring a number of companies and institutions in the member states appreciates their role in fostering national labor, Al-Zayani said.

The honoring will also extend to the best small enterprise in the GCC, and many others for their support to the labor markets. A major goal of the current session is enhancing the labor market in the GCC countries through offering more new proper jobs, Director General of the Executive Bureau of the GCC Social Affairs and Labor Ministers Council Aqeel Al-Jassem, said.

He stressed the role of workforce for increasing production. One main issue to be addressed by the current ministerial session is lifting the restrictions hindering the free move of national labor among the GCC member states, Al-Jassem said. In addition, participants in the session will discuss a report prepared through technical and financial support from the UAE Ministry of Labor on the flexibility of labor markets and the move of migrant labor in the GCC, besides a legal analytical study on “forced labor” and human trafficking.

Meanwhile, the Executive Office has adopted a program aimed at merging people with special needs into the society, Al-Jassem said.

 
 
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