The government increased efforts to prevent human trafficking, although it did not take any new steps to reform the problematic sponsorship system. The Permanent National Committee for the Implementation of the National Strategy for the Prevention of Trafficking, established in 2018, convened three times during the reporting period; the Committee included the MOI’s Anti-Trafficking Department and Residency Affairs Division, PAM, and the PPO. The government reported that agencies tasked with combating trafficking, including those on the Committee, continued to operate during the pandemic, although their operations were limited by social distancing measures. In September 2020, PAM announced a collaborative program with the Supreme Council for Planning and Development and two international organizations, entitled “Tamkeen,” which included the creation of an International Recruitment Integrity system, a voluntary accreditation mechanism that connects employers, employees, and recruiters to promote ethical recruitment. The government reported that Tamkeen was working to digitize PAM’s labor files in order to make the files trackable with the aim of eliminating the gaps in records of employment that allowed employers to circumvent the labor law previously; PAM officially launched the program in January 2021. In April 2020, the Council of Ministers instructed the Minister of Interior to form a working group with all stakeholder agencies to gather information and take legal actions necessary to counter visa trading, a significant indicator of trafficking. Additionally, MOI investigators questioned 1,600 residency violators that had signed up for the amnesty program and uncovered 28 “fake companies”; MOI referred the companies to the PPO for criminal proceedings. The government, in collaboration with an international organization, financially supported and conducted public awareness campaigns at shopping malls and the international airport to raise awareness of trafficking and warn against using illegal domestic labor recruitment companies. Various officials also took part in anti-trafficking awareness messaging on local television, radio, and social media platforms. The government continued to disseminate pamphlets to educate migrant workers on their rights, which were published in multiple languages and disseminated in airports, embassies, and labor-recruitment agencies. Authorities continued to employ the services of the government’s Mobile Labor Disputes Office to help workers in remote areas of the country file complaints against employers for labor law violations. The mobile unit was run by an emergency team of investigators, inspectors, interpreters, lawyers, and volunteers. Officials also advertised to migrant laborers online services that allowed workers and employers to dock and track workplace issues electronically, receive alerts if an employer filed an absconding charge, notify the respective source country embassy, and challenge legal settlements incurred. PAM maintained a hotline to receive general workplace grievances and potential trafficking cases, while DWED had an email address for the same purpose. Although both hotlines remained operational during the pandemic, neither entity reported how many trafficking-specific calls they received during the reporting period.
The domestic labor law (Law 68/15) guaranteed domestic workers one day off per week, a maximum 12-hour workday, minimum wages paid per month, paid annual leave, and access to file formal grievances at the MOI, among other protections. The 2016 bylaws regulated implementation of this law. Amendments to the ministerial resolution of the 2010 labor law, passed in 2016, increased penalties for non-payment of wages, made mandatory documentation of all paid wages, and required prison time and fines for employers and government officials who failed to adhere to provisions of this law. Authorities continued to apply the amended provisions of the domestic labor law by building a monetary reserve to adjudicate cases of labor law violations to pay unpaid wages and cover the costs of repatriation. For issuance or renewal of a license for a domestic labor recruitment firm, it enforced the rule that single offices must submit financial deposits of 40,000 KD ($131,580) with a two-year validity and larger companies to present a letter of guarantee worth 100,000 KD ($328,950). During the previous reporting period, PAM formed specialized administrative and oversight teams within the DWED aimed at safeguarding the rights of domestic workers. The teams were composed of 34 employees to manage arbitration of workplace disputes, inspection of premises, and licensing of firms.
The DWED continued to investigate domestic worker recruitment agencies to ensure compliance with the 2015 domestic labor law. In addition, it initiated investigations based on grievances filed by domestic workers, employers, and embassies of labor-source countries. The government arbitrated such grievances either through extrajudicial proceedings or through the labor courts. The DWED also reported it could refer suspected trafficking cases to the MOI for further investigation but did not report doing so during the reporting period. DWED officials received 2,634 work-related complaints, amicably resolved 867 in extrajudicial proceedings, referred 1,625 to the labor courts, and the others remained pending. With lockdowns and social distancing measures due the pandemic, the DWED conducted 10 inspections of domestic worker recruitment firms—which identified six fake recruitment offices. The recruitment offices were subsequently shut down, and the owners were referred to MOI’s General Investigation Department. DWED consequently suspended 37 recruitment firms for three to six months for violation of the domestic labor law, compared to 52 suspensions the previous year; officials did not report referring any of these for criminal investigation or prosecution. Separately, PAM received 10,498 official grievances from foreign laborers, the most common of which included pay discrepancies, denied requests to transfer employers after the required two years with an initial sponsor, and disputes regarding overtime pay issuances. Authorities reported resolving 90 percent of grievances in favor of the employees, to include transference of employer or receipt of unpaid wages; it referred the remaining 2,693 unresolved cases via arbitration to the labor courts. At the close of the reporting period, the outcomes for a majority these cases were unknown, but PAM reported referring two cases to MOI’s anti-trafficking unit for criminal investigation. In 2020, PAM conducted and/or participated in more than 15,475 inspections to ensure labor and residency laws were fully implemented by employers; these inspections resulted in roughly 1,100 citations and fines against violating companies. Additionally, PAM identified hundreds of companies that engaged in fraudulent practices by sponsoring workers yet failing to provide legitimate employment. Accordingly, PAM officials referred 915 companies to MOI’s investigative department, permanently revoked files of 71 companies, and temporarily suspended files of more than 3,400 companies in contravention of local labor laws. As of November 2020, PAM had transferred around 417 company case files to the PPO over involvement in human trafficking since the onset of the pandemic; however, the government did not report the outcome of these referrals. Additionally, in the same month, PAM reported that it had formed crisis and emergency teams in addition to the existing inspection teams to monitor the conditions of expatriate workers during the pandemic. Under Kuwaiti law, a blocked file precludes companies from transferring workers to other employers, hiring new employees, and renewing their licenses to operate. In December 2020, PAM announced that it would no longer conceal the types of violations and crimes by companies found guilty of trafficking by removing obscure codes for 10,000 companies’ files and replacing the codes with clear information on their violations and crimes, such as violating workers’ rights, failure to pay salaries, and visa trading. The government reported that this information would eventually become accessible to the public via a website to enable greater transparency and hold companies that previously were in violation accountable for past crimes.
In adherence to the domestic labor law, the government’s centralized recruitment company, Al Durra, worked to reduce recruitment costs, curb illegal recruitment fees, provide greater oversight of recruiting practices, hire male domestic workers, and secure labor agreements for female employees. However, in 2019, Al Durra stopped working with expatriate employers after complaints suggested the mechanism was established to help Kuwaitis and was subsequently made available for Kuwaiti citizens only. The most common nationalities hired previously through Al Durra included those from the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, and Burkina Faso. Kuwait maintained its agreement with the Philippine government to regulate the recruitment and employment of Filipino domestic workers in Kuwait to better safeguard their legal protections. The Commerce Ministry capped at 890 KD ($2,930) the ceiling for mandatory recruitment fees employers pay to agencies to recruit domestic employees; in actuality, a portion of these fees were transferred to the domestic employees. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by continuing to enforce the law that makes prostitution illegal and by carrying out raids on suspected sex rings and massage parlors allegedly engaged in commercial sex practices. The government provided annual anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.