April 14, 2010 / 6:53 PM / 10 years ago

Kuwait sets mimimum wage for first time

KUWAIT (Reuters) - Kuwait on Wednesday introduced a minimum wage of 60 dinars ($208.9) a month, in a move that affects hundreds of thousands of Asian workers.

Workers apply a Jura Stone cover on a wall of the Hamra Tower in Kuwait City December 9, 2009. Kuwait on Wednesday introduced a minimum wage of 60 dinars ($208.9) a month, in a move that affects hundreds of thousands of Asian workers. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee/Files

The wealthy Gulf Arab state, the world’s fourth largest oil exporter, depends on unskilled foreign labour for cleaning and construction.

Most Kuwaitis are employed by the public sector with generous benefits, while the private sector is dominated by foreign workers.

The state news agency KUNA said the minister of social affairs and labour, Mohammad al-Efasi, issued the order setting a minimum wage for the first time in accordance with a labour law parliament passed in December.

Analysts say 60 dinars was too low and much more needed to be done to ensure justice for low paid foreigners. Many domestic helpers, who might not be covered by the new regulation, are paid less that.

“What is more important than minimum wage is ... good treatment,” said Ali al-Nimesh, an economic analyst.

Hundreds of maids from Asian countries run away from employers and seek refuge at their embassies every year complaining of abuse or non-payment of salaries.

Cleaners contracted to work in hospitals or government offices have demonstrated saying they went for months without pay.

KUNA did not say if housemaids, whose number is estimated at around 500,000, are covered by minimum wage. Human rights activists had criticised the new labour law for not covering them when it was being deliberated in parliament.

Economic analyst Hajaj Bou Khadour said a clampdown was needed on Kuwaitis who illegally charge workers up to 1,000 dinars for a residency permit without providing them with work. They are locally known as “visa traders.”

“It is not about setting a minimum wage, it is about dealing with trafficking in labourers,” he told Reuters.

He also said the minimum wage should be doubled to cover food and housing expenses and allow workers to send some money home to their families.

Reporting by Diana Elias

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