Image Credit: Gulf News

Manama: Manila has welcomed Kuwait's announcement that it is to put an end to its controversial sponsorship system next year, but has highlighted the issue of domestic helpers. Shulan Primavera, the Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait, said domestic helpers would greatly benefit from an official effort to tackle their concerns and address their issues.

This step would also be beneficial to Kuwait’s image, he said.

"Kuwait's name has taken a battering because of the domestic helpers' issues, on the international front," he was quoted in the Kuwait Times as saying on Friday "If the concerns of domestic helpers are addressed, it can help Kuwait greatly and can go a long way. Cancelling the 'Kafeel' system is a great move that will surely help expatriate workers, but it will also help Kuwait if the concerns of domestic helpers are given priority."

The envoy said that, unlike other workers whose concerns are well-protected by the Kuwaiti labour law, domestic helpers remain some of the most vulnerable members of society. In Kuwait, issues of domestic helpers are handled by the interior ministry and do not come under the labour law, enacted in early 2010.

Last week, Mohammad Al Afassi, the social affairs and labour minister, announced that Kuwait would scrap the harshly criticised sponsorship law in February.

Under the sponsorship system in the Arabian Gulf, all foreign workers are required to be sponsored by local employers, which mean they are effectively at their mercy. A foreigner cannot enter the country, work in or leave the country without the approval of the sponsor.

The system has been heavily criticised by local and international rights watchdogs, but the staunch resistance of powerful business communities has made getting rid of it a formidable task.

Bahrain, in 2009, abolished the system, but Majeed Al Alawi, the Labour Minister, under went a barrage of criticism from businesses after he tried to implement the decision.

Al Alawi, who said that the sponsorship system was modern-day slavery, was initially accused of implementing a policy that would cause the economy to collapse. He and his followers rejected the charges however and insisted on the need to treat foreigners with dignity.

Al Alawi faced issues with the business community when he called for a five-year cap on unskilled labourers to ensure less reliance by Gulf nationals on foreigners and to help preserve the local language, cultures and traditions from foreign onslaughts. His proposal, supported by the labour ministers of the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), caused such a controversial reaction, that its implementation was eventually delayed.