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Hundreds of Kuwait's public sector workers still owed payment

On February 1, 2022

Hundreds of non-Kuwaiti public sector employees are still in the crosshairs of Kuwait’s budget crunch, liquidity crisis, and labour nationalisation schemes. For several months now, the government has denied end-of-service benefits to migrant workers whose services were terminated as part of Kuwaitisation measures, alongside those who may have resigned for other reasons. Under the Law of Employment in the Government Sector, Law No 18 of 1960, workers are entitled to end-of-service (EOS) benefits or compensation when they complete or terminate their contracts, subject to the fulfilment of certain conditions. EOS benefits are not bonuses — they are mandatory severance payments that, in Kuwait’s case, take the place of inclusion in the social security law.

The Civil Service Commission enacted a 5-year Kuwaitisation plan for the public sector that comes to an end in 2022, and resulted in the large-scale termination of foreign workers last year. Migrant-Rights.Org spoke to some of the affected workers who are still waiting for their due compensation.

Ayoob*, who worked at the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs was fired in May 2021 because his name was on a list of migrant workers whose services were to be terminated, in adherence with the Kuwaitisation policy. He has not received his end-of-service compensation, even though there is an EOS clause in his contract. Article 27 of the law lists the conditions of when a worker can be dismissed without end-of-service benefits, most involving disciplinary issues or involvement in criminal activities. None of these conditions applies to Ayoob, whose services were only terminated because of Kuwaitisation. He has only been told he will receive his EOS payment “soon,” with no further details.

Even workers whose EOS claims have been acknowledged by the government have been unable to collect their dues. Two Filipino nurses MR spoke to had recently resigned from the Ministry of Health after 13 to 14 years of service. One resigned four months ago, and the other in the first few months of 2021. Article 25 specifies that workers who resign will earn half of their end-of-service benefits if they have been employed for more than three years. The women returned to the Philippines after receiving assurances the money would be transferred to them despite leaving Kuwait. However, they have yet to receive anything.

According to Al Qabas, the delay in paying migrant employees end-of-service compensation is due to an increase in the number of workers whose services were terminated under the Kuwaitisation Policy in 2021, draining the funds allocated for that purpose. Furthermore, Kuwait’s Law of Employment in the Government Sector does not establish a clear deadline for paying end-of-service benefits. The lack of a time frame for execution — in addition to the fact that the government itself is the violating party – complicates the ability for migrant workers to seek legal remedy.

There also appears to be a pattern of discrimination in prioritising EOS disbursements to nationals. MR conducted several interviews with Kuwaiti employees who recently resigned or retired from the public sector, who reported they indeed receive their end-of-service benefits. Discrimination on national and ethnic lines violates Article 29 of the Kuwaiti constitution, which states that “people are peers in human dignity and have, in the eyes of the Law, equal public rights and obligations. There shall be no differentiation among them because of gender, origin, language or religion.”

According to Gulf News (via Al Jarida), a Kuwaiti court recently ruled that the Civil Service Commission indeed violated the constitution by requiring expatriates to provide a departure notification in order to receive their EOS payments.

The Ministry of Finance mandated that all governmental agencies estimate their end-of-service dues and include them in their draft budget for the fiscal year 2022-2023.   Kuwait can well afford to pay off these dues, especially with oil prices high. But with the drawn-out liquidity squeeze, steep budget cuts, and priority to push through further Kuwaitisation, it’s unclear how soon workers will receive their dues.

Unclear regulations leave migrants in the dark

Mohammed,* originally from Egypt, worked for a governmental investment entity for almost seven years. He says he was hired as a systems administrator before the department was even assigned a manager, and was one of the founders of the organization’s IT department. When Kuwaitis were recruited to the department under nationalisation schemes, he was downgraded from systems administrator to a support role. Mohammed anticipated that his “days at the institution were numbered.” A few months before his contract was set to expire, management summoned him, congratulated him for his performance, and told him he could look for a new job because his contract would be terminated in conformity with the latest Kuwaitisation policy. But when they realized that the department’s employees needed additional training, he was told that he could continue for three months or until his contract expired. Mohammed finally left when his contract expired in January 2020, at which point he was shocked to discover he would not receive an end-of-service benefit.

Mohammed says he was employed on an expertise assistance contract, which means he was recruited “temporarily” by the government to perform certain services. The legal framework which regulates this kind of contract is the Civil Service Commission decision No.5 of 2007, which was amended in 2017 decision No 2 of 2017. Article 9 of decision No. 5 of 2007 clearly states that the contractor will not receive end-of-service benefits; however, decision No. 2 of 2017 amended this in article 6, and states that the contractor will receive an end-of-service payment in cash, based on the number of leave days left in their balance. This remuneration differs from the end-of-service gratuity, but Mohammed should still be owed these payments for the years he worked between 2017 and 2020.

But he was told that his contract did not have an EOS clause, and so would neither receive remuneration for his unused leave days nor the end-of-service gratuity he thought he was entitled to. Mohammed said that he signed his contract only once, years ago, and cannot remember its contents; in order to obtain a copy, he would have to navigate a complex bureaucracy at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour. The automatic renewal of his contracts adds to the confusion of his case because such renewals are characteristic of the Law of Employment in the Government Sector — and not the Civil Service Commission decisions that govern the expertise assistance contracts, which have a maximum of one-year term limit.

*All names have been changed. | Image credit: Al Jarida