Laws without enforcement : the case of unskilled foreign workers in Kuwait

Al Rayes, Dina (2019) Laws without enforcement : the case of unskilled foreign workers in Kuwait. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


International labour migration has become an issue widely addressed in international relations, due to the many spheres that are related to this area, such as economics, human rights, labour rights as well as sociological issues. In recent years, the Middle East and especially the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have become some of the most sought-after labour destinations in the world. As a newly oil-rich nation, Kuwait relied on foreign workers to fill the gaps in the labour market that existed due to a shortage of skills among the local population. Modern infrastructures, large-scale projects and basic services such as health care and education all needed human resources that were unavailable at the time. The reliance on foreign labour in Kuwait has increased rapidly in the last forty years and shows no signs of abating. What began as an effort to import labour for the purpose of building and developing modern infrastructures in a recently oil-rich nation, has developed into a reliance on foreign labour that generates a great deal of wealth for nationals, without offering proper protections for those laborers. Millions of Asian men and women migrate to the GCC seeking better opportunities for their families in their home countries, however in most cases this is less dependent on legal guarantees of labour protection and more on luck. In theory, unskilled foreign laborers, like other expatriate workers in Kuwait, are granted the same legal rights that are granted to nationals. Although there are some exceptions pertaining to nationals in the labour laws, in general, both groups are protected by the Kuwaiti Constitution, as well as international agreements that Kuwait has signed. In practice, however, the situation is very different. Due to the confines of the sponsorship system, and the immense control over workers’ lives it grants nationals, unskilled foreign workers face widescale discrimination and violations of their rights every day, a situation that is best described as forced labour and slavery. In many cases, the failure of the government to act in respect to the abuse of migrants’ rights reveals its inability to balance its international and national obligations. The purpose of this thesis is to show how the lack of enforcement of national and international labour and human rights laws concerning unskilled foreign workers in Kuwait constitutes modern slavery and forced labour. There are three main factors that will be addressed: the lack of enforcement of existing national laws, as well as international treaties and conventions; the ways in which the sponsorship system, as it exists today, is in breach of international laws and human rights standards; and the responsibilities of governments, recruitment agencies, and other organizations involved with migrant labour. Issues such as wages, housing and working conditions, dispute resolutions, and labour contracts will be discussed.

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