Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
f. Protection of Refugees
The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to persons of concern.
Access to Basic Services: The government enacted policies making public healthcare more expensive for foreign workers but has put a cap on education fees. UNHCR received feedback from persons of concern that healthcare expenses were beyond their reach. They also had challenges in enrolling their children in schools, particularly those who did not have valid residency permits. Support for children with special needs was limited and often inaccessible for foreigners.
g. Stateless Persons
Bidoon residents are stateless Arabs who are considered illegal residents by authorities and not granted citizenship. According to press, figures there were approximately 88,000 Bidoon residents in the country. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International estimated the Bidoon resident population at more than 100,000. The law does not provide stateless persons, including Bidoon persons, a clear path to acquire citizenship. As of November government sources announced no Bidoon or foreigners had been naturalized during the year. The judicial system’s lack of authority to rule on the status of stateless persons further complicated the process for obtaining citizenship, leaving Bidoon with no access to the judiciary to present evidence and plead their case for citizenship.
The Central Agency for Illegal Residents oversees Bidoon resident affairs. In November the Council of Ministers issued a resolution extending the agency’s expired term by one additional year. Bidoon residents, Bidoon rights advocates, MPs, and human rights activists protested the decision, arguing that the Agency had not been effective in resolving matters pertaining to the Bidoon. They argued that conditions for Bidoon residents had dramatically deteriorated under the agency’s leadership. They pointed to dozens of Bidoon community members, especially youth, who had committed suicide in recent years due to dire social and economic conditions. The agency received tens of thousands of citizenship requests by Bidoon residents for review since its establishment in 2010.
According to Bidoon advocates and government officials, many Bidoon residents were unable to provide documentation proving ties to the country sufficient to qualify for citizenship. Since the government considers Bidoon illegal residents, many lacked identification cards, which prevented them from engaging in legal employment or obtaining travel documents.
Although Bidoon residents are by law entitled to government benefits including free healthcare and education, and ration cards, community members have alleged it was often difficult for them to access those services due to bureaucratic red tape. Some Bidoon residents and international NGOs reported that the government did not uniformly provide government services and benefits to Bidoon residents. Like other noncitizens, Bidoon do not have the right to own real estate. Since citizen children were given priority to attend public school, a small minority of Bidoon children whose families could afford it enrolled in substandard private schools. Some activists alleged that they or their family members have been deprived of access to education, healthcare, and jobs for advocating on behalf of the Bidoon. Press reports indicated that in March the Central Bank of Kuwait had directed banks to remove the ban on banking for Bidoon with expired IDs.
The government alleged that the vast majority of Bidoon residents concealed their “true” nationalities and were not actually stateless. Agency officials have extended incentive benefits to Bidoon who disclose an alternate nationality, including priority employment, and the ability to obtain a driver’s license. In 2018 approximately 12,700 Bidoon admitted having a claim on another nationality.
Bidoon leaders alleged that when some members of the Bidoon community attempted to obtain government services from the Central Agency, officials would routinely deceive them by promising to provide the necessary paperwork only if the Bidoon agreed to sign a blank piece of paper. Later, Bidoon reported, the agency would write a letter on the signed paper purportedly “confessing” the Bidoon’s “true” nationality, which rendered them ineligible for recognition or benefits as Bidoon. In March the Court of Cassation ruled that all decisions issued by the Central Agency for Illegal Residents fall under the jurisdiction of the judiciary and as a result are challengeable in the courts. The Central Agency is tasked with granting or revoking government identification, birth, death, or marriage certificates, recommendations for employment, and other official documentation, whereas the Supreme Committee for the Verification of Citizenship at the Ministry of Interior manages all citizenship revocations and naturalizations. Nonetheless, many Bidoon and activists on their behalf continued to accuse the Agency of not complying with the law and failing to implement court rulings requiring it to register Bidoon residents and issue them required documents.
According to international observers, some Bidoon residents underwent DNA testing purportedly to “prove” their Kuwaiti nationality by virtue of blood relation to a citizen. Bidoon residents are required to submit DNA samples confirming paternity to become naturalized, a practice critics said leaves them vulnerable to denial of citizenship based on DNA testing. Children of Bidoon fathers and citizen mothers are typically rendered stateless, as the law does not allow women to transmit nationality.
The government previously amended the existing law on military service to allow the Bidoon sons of soldiers who served in the military for 30 years and the Bidoon sons of soldiers killed or missing in action to be eligible to join the military. According to a 2019 statement from the head of the Interior and Defense Parliamentary Committee, as a result more than 27,000 Bidoons were awaiting enlistment.
In January the Court of Appeals upheld a three-year prison sentence with labor for Bidoon activist Mohammad Khodhair al-Enezi for taking part in an illegal rally in 2019, and encouraging the murder of employees of the Central Agency for Illegal Residents.
In February, several MPs announced they would work to stop a Public Authority for Manpower (PAM) proposal that all Bidoon working in the private sector be registered with the PAM. The MPs noted that Bidoon must sign affidavits confessing they hold citizenship with other countries as part of this registration, which the Bidoon argued was inhuman and coercive.
In 2019 the KSS arrested 15 Bidoon activists (and charged one in absentia) on numerous charges including: joining a banned organization aimed at undermining political, economic, and social systems of the country and overthrowing the regime; spreading false news; organizing and participating in gatherings and rallies without a license (which the government would not grant to Bidoon residents); and incitement to murder. All defendants denied the charges. In January the Criminal Court announced its verdicts in the case. Muhammad Wali received a life sentence in absentia. Humoud Rabah and Ridha Thamir were both sentenced to 10 years for calling for the overthrow of the regime and joining a banned organization. Abdulhakim al-Fadhli and 11 other defendants were released on suspended sentences under a pledge of “good conduct” for two years. Five of the 12, including al-Fadhli, were also required to pay bail. In July the Court of Appeals overturned the 10-year prison sentence for Humoud Rabah and Ridha Thamir and acquitted them of attempting to overthrow the government, but sentenced them to two years imprisonment for participating in and calling for unlicensed gatherings. However, the court released them both on suspended sentences and after paying in bail. They were also required to sign a “good conduct” pledge for two years. The defendants have appealed the case to the Court of Cassation in an attempt to get all fines and charges fully overturned.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
Approximately 70 percent of residents were noncitizens, many originating from other parts of the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and South and Southeast Asia. Societal discrimination against noncitizens was prevalent and occurred in most areas of daily life, including employment, education, housing, social interaction, and health care (see sections 2.g, and 7.d.). The Ministry of Interior used administrative deportation, which is not subject to judicial review, to deport noncitizens for minor offenses, such as operating a taxi without a license.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law protects the right of citizen workers to form and join trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, with significant restrictions. The government generally enforced applicable laws which were commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination.
The law does not apply to public-sector employees, domestic workers, or maritime employees. Discrete labor laws set work conditions in the public and private sectors, with the oil industry treated separately. The law permits limited trade union pluralism at the local level, but the government authorized only one federation, the Kuwait Trade Union Federation. The law also stipulates any new union must include at least 100 workers and that at least 15 must be citizens.
The law provides workers, except for domestic workers, maritime workers, and civil servants, a limited right to collective bargaining. There is no minimum number of workers needed to conclude such agreements. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Based on available information, it was unclear whether penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
Public-sector workers do not have the right to strike. Citizens in the private sector have the right to strike, although cumbersome provisions calling for compulsory negotiation and arbitration in the case of disputes limit that right. The law does not prohibit retaliation against striking workers or prevent the government from interfering in union activities, including the right to strike. In August the National Assembly approved amendments to the private sector labor law that would provide full end-of-service benefits for workers. The indemnity covers a full end-of-service benefits package without deducting the employer’s contribution to the Social Insurance Institution during the employee’s period of employment.
In January, several vocational rehabilitation employees at the Public Authority for Disabled Affairs organized a sit-in protest of the suspension of their shift allowance. In July approximately 200 workers of a restaurant chain protested three months’ worth of unpaid salaries during COVID-19-related lockdowns.
In March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Interior established the “Leave Safely” campaign, which aimed to deport approximately 200,000 residence violators. The program granted violators an amnesty period through April 30, waiving all penalties and fees. The government also provided free tickets back to violators’ home countries. In May unrest was reported at two migrant worker shelters for Egyptian nationals awaiting repatriation. Residents were barred from leaving the shelters due to authorities’ fear the workers would transmit coronavirus to the general population, despite reports of limited access to water and electricity inside the facility. Kuwaiti Special Forces dispersed the crowds with tear gas and arrested several Egyptian laborers.
According to the PAM, as of November only 4.8 percent of the total workforce in the private sector were citizens. Most citizens (81.5 percent) worked in the public sector where they constituted 76.8 percent of the total workforce, in part because the government provided lucrative benefits to citizens, including generous retirement.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference with union functions. It provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Nevertheless, the law empowers the courts to dissolve any union for violating labor laws or for threatening “public order and morals,” although a union can appeal such a court decision. The Ministry of State for Economic Affairs can request the Court of First Instance to dissolve a union. Additionally, the amir may dissolve a union by decree.
The government enforced applicable laws, with some exceptions, and procedures were generally not subjected to lengthy delay or appeals.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law sets a national monthly minimum wage in the oil and private sector and a minimum monthly wage for domestic workers. Most low-wage employees were not able to bring their families to the country. Employers generally provided some form of housing. In 2019, the country ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment by Public and Private Employers, which came into effect in July.
The law limits the standard workweek to 48 hours (40 hours for the petroleum industry) and gives private-sector workers 30 days of annual leave. The law also forbids requiring employees to work more than 60 hours per week or 10 hours per day. The law provides for 13 designated national holidays annually. Workers are entitled to 125 percent of base pay for working overtime and 150 percent of base pay for working on their designated weekly day off. The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties were commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.
The government issued occupational health and safety standards that were up-to-date and appropriate for the main industries. For example, the law provides that all outdoor work stop between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. during June, July, and August, or when the temperature rises to more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. A worker could file a complaint against an employer with the PAM if the worker believed his safety and health were at risk. In July the PAM reported that 138 companies had violated the summer heat work ban during its recent inspections.
The law and regulations governing acceptable conditions of work in the private sector do not apply to domestic workers. The PAM has jurisdiction over domestic worker matters and enforces domestic labor working standards.
The PAM is responsible for enforcement of wages, hours, overtime, and occupational safety and health regulations of workers. Enforcement by the ministry was generally good, but there were gaps in enforcement with respect to low-skilled foreign laborers. Several ministry officials cited inadequate numbers of inspectors as the main reason for their inability to enforce the laws better.
Labor and occupational safety inspectors monitored private firms. The government periodically inspected enterprises to raise awareness among workers and employers and to assure that they abided by existing safety rules, controlled pollution in certain industries, trained workers to use machines, and reported violations. In April the PAM announced the establishment of emergency hotlines to track visa trading and labor infraction allegations.
The government did not effectively enforce the private sector labor law. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to deter violations. The PAM monitored work sites to inspect for compliance with rules banning summer work and recorded hundreds of violations during the year. Workers could also report these violations to their embassies, the Kuwait Trade Union Federation, Kuwait Society for Human Rights, or the Labor Disputes Department. Noncompliant employers faced warnings, fines, or forced suspensions of company operations, but these were not sufficient to deter violators.
In the first 10 months of the year, the Labor Disputes Department received approximately 10,498 complaints from workers, of which approximately 2,693 were referred to the courts. These complaints were either regarding contract matters, such as nonpayment of wages, or concerning difficulties transferring work visas to new companies. Most of the complaints were resolved in arbitration, with the remaining cases referred to the courts for resolution.
At times the PAM intervened to resolve labor disputes between foreign workers and their employers. The authority’s labor arbitration panel sometimes ruled in favor of foreign laborers who claimed violations of work contracts by their employers. The government was more effective in resolving unpaid salary disputes involving private sector laborers than those involving domestic workers.
Foreign workers were vulnerable to unacceptable conditions of work. Domestic workers and other unskilled foreign workers in the private sector frequently worked substantially in excess of 48 hours a week, with no day of rest.
Domestic workers had little recourse when employers violated their rights except to seek admittance to the domestic workers shelter where the government mediated between sponsors and workers either to assist the worker in finding an alternate sponsor, or to assist in voluntary repatriation. There were no inspections of private residences, which is the workplace of the majority of the country’s domestic workers. Reports indicated employers forced domestic workers to work overtime without additional compensation. In July 2019 the PAM announced it was planning to unveil a “blacklist” system that would prevent the sponsorship of domestic workers by recruitment offices or employers that violate workers’ rights. The PAM began implementing this system in February.
Some domestic workers did not have the ability to remove themselves from an unhealthy or unsafe situation without endangering their employment. There were reports of domestic workers’ committing or attempting to commit suicide due to desperation over abuse, including sexual violence or poor working conditions. A 2016 law provides legal protections for domestic workers, including a formal grievance process managed by the PAM. A worker not satisfied with the department’s arbitration decision has the right to file a legal case via the labor court.
Several embassies with large domestic worker populations in the country met with varying degrees of success in pressing the government to prosecute serious cases of domestic worker abuse. Severe cases included those where there were significant, life-threatening injuries or death.