Over 100 construction workers protested in front of Kuwait’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MoSAL) in February to demand their salaries, which have been withheld for over four months. The MoSAL assured employees that their complaints will be settled by next week, and that the company will face penalties if there is additional delay.
Delayed salaries are an issue within the public sector as well; in October, Ethiopian nurses protested in front of the MoSAL after a company contracted by the Ministry of Health delayed salaries of 1,300 male and female nurses for three months. The workers also protested salary discrimination, as they earn only a maximum of KD 400 while their colleagues receive up to KD 800. The racial stratification of wages is prevalent throughout the Gulf, as certain qualities and skilled are mistakingly ascribed to nationality rather than individual merit.
Furthermore, the MoSAL has recently been under fire for several failures pertaining to migrant workers; the ministry reportedly approved a request by the labor relations department to stop “entertaining labor complaints…from expatriate workers whose employer’s files have been suspended.” According to an unnamed ministry source, the ministry has also violated ministerial decisions 200/2013 and 213/2011 by rejecting applications for visa transfers until workers have completed three years with their sponsors.
By abandoning its responsibilities, the Kuwaiti government exacerbates migrant workers’ vulnerability under the sponsorship system; without administrative approval, migrants are unable to change their employment and are often forced to endure exploitative conditions indefinitely. Those who protest for their rights - technically an unlawful act in Kuwait - risk further retribution from their employers, and jeopardize their visa status; in November, another group of Ethiopian workers protested in front of the MoSAL on behalf of over 1,800 colleagues. The workers' employer, a cleaning company that receives public contracts, regularly subjected their wages to unlawful deductions or withheld them completely. The workers told Arab Times Online that the company threatened to deport them if they continued to complain. The power imbalance created by the sponsorship system renders these threats very real.