According to a recent Al Qabas report, Kuwait’s Public Authority for Manpower (PAM) has annulled all “absconding” cases lodged during the Covid-19 crisis. The decision comes after investigations revealed that many absconding cases were false, with employers attempting to sidestep their legal obligations to pay wages, provide food and accommodation, and pay for repatriation.
PAM’s labour protection department has received “clear and strict” instructions to not accept any absconding complaints from employers as long as the crisis remains, the report said. Absconding cases filed before the crisis will still be verified and submitted to respective authorities within two months of the filing date, after which workers will be placed on a blacklist by the resident affairs investigative unit.
As part of the sponsorship system, employers throughout the GCC have the power to file absconding or ‘runaway’ cases against foreign employees. Employers often use this to control workers’ mobility, taking advantage of the often weak verification process. Employers motives for filing false reports include retribution or attempts to pre-empt complaints lodged against them to block workers access to justice and compensation. Workers do not generally benefit from an extensive claims verification process and are rendered vulnerable to detention and deportation because absconding is illegal. Criminalising workers who leave their employers can lead to forced labour, as workers are discouraged from leaving abusive situations.
Reporting workers as absconded is also easy for employers to rid themselves of responsibilities towards workers under their sponsorship, as the Covid-19 crisis has brought to light
Kuwaiti authorities have previously admitted issues with false absconding reports. In 2019 alone, the country received over 10,000 absconding complaints. In May this year, PAM had announced that employers whose domestics workers abscond frequently will face legal charges, in an attempt to curtail trading and selling of visas.
Kuwait has also recently witnessed a large number of non-payment cases, with several workers staging a protest in and out of lockdown areas.