Monday, March 15, 2010

No sponsor transfer requests processed
Unmarried men continue to face housing discrimination

Following is the second and last part of the ‘Report on Human Rights Practices’ on Kuwait issued by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Thursday evening. The first part was published in Saturday’s issue.

The resolution excludes domestic workers, public sector workers, and foreign workers involved in finance management, thereby applying to approximately two-thirds of the country's two million foreign workers. At year's end the MOSAL had not processed any sponsor transfer requests.
The Department of State's annual Trafficking in Persons Report can be found at
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and imposes penalties against employers who refrain from hiring persons with disabilities without reasonable cause. The law also mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities. The government generally enforced these provisions. There were no specific reports of discrimination against persons with disabilities; however, noncitizens with disabilities did not have access to government-operated facilities or receive stipends paid to citizens with disabilities, which covered transportation, housing, job training, and social welfare.

Representatives from ministries, other governmental bodies, Kuwait University, and several NGOs constituted the government's Higher Council for Handicapped Affairs, which made policy recommendations, provided financial aid to persons with disabilities, and facilitated the integration of such persons into schools, jobs, and other social institutions. The government supervised and contributed to schools and job and training programs that catered to persons with special needs.
Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Homosexuality and cross-dressing are illegal. The law punishes homosexual behavior between men older than 21 with imprisonment of up to seven years; those engaging in homosexual activity with men younger than 21 may be imprisoned for as long as 10 years. In 2007 the National Assembly approved a law to impose a fine of 1,059 dinars ($3,690) and/or one year's imprisonment for those imitating the appearance of the opposite sex in public. There are no laws that criminalize sexual behavior between women.

During the year there were more than a dozen reports of police arresting transgender persons at malls and markets, taking them into custody, beating them and shaving their heads, and then releasing them without charges. For example, on March 10, MOI Criminal Investigations Division officers raided a cafe, arresting five men for cross-dressing.
There were no official NGOs focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender matters. Societal discrimination based on sexual orientation was common; official discrimination was less so. There was no government response to either.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There was no reported societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.
Unmarried men continued to face housing discrimination based solely on marital status. Although the law prohibits single men from obtaining accommodation in many urban residential areas, at year's end the government had not fulfilled a plan to construct housing for them on the outskirts of the capital.

Section 7 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
With the exceptions of the country's approximately 560,000 domestic servants and an unknown number of maritime employees, the law provides that workers have the restricted right to join unions without previous authorization. Although 1.5 million foreign workers who are not domestic workers can join unions, they cannot run or vote in board elections. An estimated 100,000 persons, or 5 percent, of a total workforce of two million were organized into unions, mostly in the public sector or petroleum industry. The law empowers the government to interfere significantly in union activities, including the right to strike; however, the government did not impede strikes. To hold a legal strike, a union must obtain permission from the MOI, which did not grant permission for any of the strikes that took place during the year.
The government restricts the right of freedom of association to only one union per occupational trade and permits only one federation, the Kuwait Trade Union Federation (KTUF), which comprises 15 of the 47 licensed unions. Some workers were dissatisfied with the KTUF and instead joined the unlicensed National Trade Union Federation. The law stipulates that any new union must include at least 100 workers, 15 of them citizens. Both the International Labor Organization and the International Trade Union Confederation criticized this requirement because it discourages unions in sectors that employ few citizens, such as the construction industry and much of the private sector.
The government essentially treated licensed unions as parastatal organizations, providing as much as 90 percent of their budgets and inspecting financial records. Union leaders and board members are elected by the union members, who are citizens. It is prohibited for unions to discuss political, religious, or sectarian issues. The law empowers the courts to dissolve any union for violating labor laws or for threatening "public order and morals," although such a court decision may be appealed. The MOSAL can request the dissolution of a union through the Court of First Instance. The Amir also may dissolve a union by decree. No union was dissolved during the year. The government denied several public sector and oil sector unions' applications for official recognition during the year on the grounds that the law does not allow for more than one union to represent the same profession or organization.

The law denies domestic servants (one-third of the noncitizen workforce) and maritime employees the right to associate and organize. It also discriminates against more than one million other foreign workers by denying them union voting rights, barring them from leadership positions, and permitting them to join unions only after five years of residence, although the KTUF stated that this last requirement was not widely enforced in practice. During the year, for the first time, the KTUF worked to promote the rights of noncitizen workers, cooperating with the Embassy of Pakistan to settle the labor disputes of several Pakistani workers in the country.The law limits the right of workers, especially noncitizens, to strike. Most labor disputes are resolved in compulsory negotiations; if not, either party may petition the MOSAL for mediation. If mediation fails the dispute is referred to a labor arbitration board composed of officials from the Court of Appeals, the Attorney General's Office, and the MOSAL. The law does not contain any provision ensuring protecting strikers from legal or administrative action taken against them by the government. Employers generally try to settle disputes with workers themselves to retain them.
Foreign workers went on strike several times during the year. Most striking workers were employees of cleaning and security companies who claimed they had not received their salaries. In these instances the MOSAL responded by attempting to negotiate a settlement between the workers and the employers.
On April 26, more than 300 cleaning and security company workers staged a strike, claiming they had not received their salaries for four months. The MOSAL summoned the owner of the company and made him pay all late wages.
On July 19, an estimated 120 cleaning workers gathered in front of the Capital Labor Department, claiming they had not received their salaries for more than six months and their company had not renewed their residencies. The MOSAL summoned the owner of the company and made him pay all late wages.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law provides workers, with the exceptions of domestic servants, maritime workers, and civil servants, with the right to bargain collectively, subject to certain restrictions; the government generally respected in practice the rights of those workers covered by the law. Collective agreements covered approximately 70 percent of the labor force. There are no restrictions on collective bargaining. There is no minimum number of workers needed for such agreements.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference with union functions, and the government generally protected those rights. Any worker alleging antiunion discrimination has the right to appeal to the judiciary. Employers found guilty of such discrimination must reinstate workers fired for union activities. There were no reports of discrimination against employees based on their affiliation with a union. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, "except in cases specified by law for national emergency and with just remuneration"; however, there were reports that such practices occurred. Domestic servitude and forced prostitution were the most common types of forced labor.
Some foreign domestic workers, often trafficked, were victims of forced labor. Physical or sexual abuse of female domestic workers was a serious problem, and police and courts took action against employers when presented with evidence of serious abuse.
There were frequent reports of domestic workers allegedly committing or attempting suicide because of desperation over poor working conditions or abuse. For example, on August 16, a Sri Lankan domestic employee sustained injuries after a failed attempt to commit suicide by jumping from a roof. She alleged that her employer had punished her by pouring boiling oil on her and making her stand on the roof. Authorities took the employee to the hospital and questioned her employer.

d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits child labor; however, there were credible reports of underage workers, including domestic servants.
The legal minimum age for employment is 18; however, employers may obtain permits from the MOSAL to employ juveniles between the ages of 14 and 18 in nonhazardous trades. Juveniles may work a maximum of six hours a day on the condition that they work no more than four consecutive hours followed by a one-hour rest period.
There were reports that some children were trafficked to the country to provide domestic labor, and some underage workers reportedly falsified their ages to enter the country. There were few reports of underage Asian girls working as domestic servants after entering the country on false travel documents obtained in source countries. Approximately 300 inspectors from the Labor Inspection Department monitored private firms routinely for labor law compliance, including laws against child labor. Noncompliant employers were fined or their company operations were suspended.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The public sector minimum wage for citizens was 217 dinars ($756) per month, and the public sector noncitizen wage was 97 dinars ($338). The public sector minimum wage provided a decent standard of living for a citizen worker and family. There was no legal minimum wage in the private sector, except for those domestic workers who had signed contracts in 2006 who received at least 40 dinars ($140) per month. The MOSAL implemented the minimum wage effectively by requiring companies to provide a monthly wage report with supporting documents.
The law establishes general conditions of work for the private sector. The law limits the standard workweek to 48 hours (40 hours for the petroleum industry) with one full day of rest per week and one hour of rest after every five consecutive hours of work. These standards were not well enforced, and domestic servants and other unskilled foreign workers in the private sector frequently worked in excess of 48 hours a week, often with no day of rest. Workers submitted complaints to the MOSAL's Labor Disputes Department.

The government issued occupational health and safety standards; however, compliance and enforcement by the MOSAL appeared poor, especially with respect to unskilled foreign laborers. A September MOSAL report stated that in the previous 12 months approximately 20,000 industrial and commercial firms had negligently violated professional safety standards and that 3,313 workers were injured on the job. To decrease accident rates, the government periodically inspected enterprises to raise awareness among workers and employers and to ensure that they abided by safety rules, controlled pollution resulting from certain industries, trained workers to use machines, and reported violations. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardizing their continued employment, and legal protection existed for both citizen and foreign workers who filed complaints about such conditions.

In past years government attention to worker safety issues was limited, resulting in poor training of inspectors, inadequate injury reports, and no link between insurance payments and accident reports. No such cases were reported during the year.
The law provides that all outdoor work stop between noon and 4:00 p.m. during the months of June, July, and August or when the temperature rises to 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in the shade. The MOSAL monitored work sites to ensure compliance with these rules. There were no reports of violations during the year.

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