The old labor law, which I would call deceased by now, violated the rights of thousands of workers throughout the years. Finally, after a long, deep sleep, our MPs decided to stop fighting for a change and act as responsible representatives by reforming a law that was ignored for more than 45 years!
The National Assembly recently approved a new draft labor law for the private sector which expanded rights for workers regardless of their nationality, which is good. It is time for equality and justice to be served when issuing new laws.
The old labor law came under fire for favoring employers while remaining somewhat oppressive to workers, especially expatriates who make up the majority of workers in the private sector. Meanwhile, Kuwaitis remained suspicious of supposed opportunities and benefits in the private sector and were hesitant to seek employment there. Unfortunately, I must say that the basics of the current sponsorship system will remain, so you don’t really have a reason to jump for joy yet!
The bill covered most of the rights for workers, including severance pays, annual leaves, dismissals and public holidays, which have been increased from nine days to 13. The new bill stipulates that all workers in the private sector, regardless of their duration of service, will receive annual leave periods of 30 working days excluding public holidays, weekends and sick leave periods. Under the current law, workers get an annual leave period of 14 days for each of the first five years and 21 days thereafter.
The termination notice period has been increased to three months instead of the current one month for employees under monthly contracts, and one month instead of 15 days for workers employed on a daily basis. That, I would say, is fair enough. It doesn’t make any sense and it is not fair to assume that someone who would lose his job would be able to find another one with 30 days notice.
Workers will also be entitled to a compensation of 15 working days pay for each of the first five years and one month’s pay for each year thereafter, provided the total indemnity does not exceed their salary for an 18-month period. If workers resign in the first five years of service, they will be entitled to half the indemnity. Currently, they are entitled to nothing.
Holidays were also revised as the new bill gives private sector employees three days of holidays for Eid Al-Fitr and four days for Eid Al-Adha, as well as declaring a public holiday for Liberation Day on February 26. These holidays are in addition to other public holidays like New Year, New Islamic Year and other religious holidays. The total number of public holidays comes to 13 days. Employees asked to work on public holidays, meanwhile, are to be paid at double pay rate in addition to being given an add
itional day off later.
Under the bill, women cannot be asked to work between 8 pm and 7 am, except in health services and other professions specifically exempted by the Minister of Social Affairs and Labor. This, I think, was passed because of the influence of some conservative powers, but some MPs agreed to adjust it to 11 pm. Some MPs said that women who work at restaurants and hotels need to work until 11 pm, which I also think makes sense. A second reading of the 146-article law is expected to take place in two weeks, but a number of amendments may be introduced before then.
The lack of protection and security to workers is a serious issue. The new labor law would end many of the agonies of the past. The labor law, first passed in 1964, has caused many workers to wait for better conditions for 45 years. The new law, no matter what we may think about it, is something that many have been waiting for and needed for a long time. Many people, Kuwaitis and expatriates alike, suffered greatly because they were not able to receive their rights or receive protection from employers who
violated their agreements. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs stood still by not implementing the law that would accord workers their rights as defined by international agreements on human rights and decency.
Rights of workers need to be safeguarded and upheld, otherwise they will vanish. If the National Assembly is serious about workers rights, the new law must pass in the second term and become known to everyone.
I think I will wait and see what the coming days will bring. To those who say the new law is a great achievement, I wish you the best of luck in seeing how it will be practiced in reality!
Source: The Kuwait TImes By Muna Al-Fuzai, Staff columnist (Published Date: February 01, 2009)