The business of domestic workers in Kuwait

newsimageIn Kuwait, where the total population just crossed 4.5 million, there is a record 677,000 people employed as domestic workers, accounting for nearly a quarter of the country’s total workforce of 2.73 million. From a household perspective, that is one domestic helper for every 3.5 members in a household. Indians top the list of domestic helpers with 291,000 persons, followed by the Philippines providing 163,000 domestic personnel. Together, these two countries account for over two-thirds of all domestic helpers in Kuwait. Other countries with significant number of domestic workers in Kuwait include, Bangladesh (81,000), Sri Lanka (67,000), and Nepal (24,000). Households in Kuwait are estimated to have spent a little over KD 1 billion on their domestic workers last year, or roughly around 5 percent of the government’s total expenditure of KD 18.5 billion, or nearly 1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product of more than KD 91 billion, in 2017. In addition to this the government spends millions on subsidy for domestic workers in the form of free health, subsidized food, water, electricity and fuel usage by domestic labour. Further there is also a portion of domestic workers who enter the mainstream labour market and do not enjoy the rights and privileges the labour force in the country is entitled to in terms of lower salaries and end of service benefits. The one billion dinars spent on domestic helpers might sound generous at first hearing, but this works out to less than KD 125 spent on each domestic helper per month. This monthly outlay includes the cost of airfare to and from their home country, expenditure on food, clothes, telecommunication and other sundry expenses; leaving only whatever balance remains as monthly salary of the employee. Domestic services have become an integral part of Kuwait’s economy with hundreds of offices and employees working in the domestic labor supply business. Based on an average recruitment cost of KD 1,000 per worker, the 677,000 workers in the country cost an estimated KD 700 million. An estimated 15,000 domestic workers are added each year at total recruitment cost of about KD 15 million. Authorities believe that the number of domestic workers in the country could rise to 700,000 by end of the year. Demand for domestic workers is likely to increase in the coming weeks, as household work tends to increase during the holy month of Ramadan. The increase in demand has already led to a hike in recruitment charges by manpower agencies. Interestingly, in a probable reflection of prevailing social attitudes, there is an evident ethnic bias in domestic worker preference by employers. Fair-skinned Filipino and Nepalese workers cost about KD 1,300 to recruit, while darker-skinned nationals cost less to hire. On the economic front, domestic workers contribute to the economic growth and development of the country. Though probably less than other residents in the country, domestic workers provide a significant fillip to activities at money remittance companies, telecommunication companies, retailers, travel agencies and airlines. Many domestic workers send whatever they can save from their monthly earning to support their families back home and thereby adding to the monthly remittance flow to their countries. They also travel to their country of origin, at least every two or three years, providing a boost to the airline and travel industry, as well as to retailers. Telecommunications companies also gain a windfall from the regular communication between workers and their loved ones back home However, probably the greatest contribution of domestic workers to the economy, and to society in general, is the opportunity cost they provide for their employers. Without a maid at home to cook, look after the children or the elderly, many households where both parents pursue professional careers or are otherwise gainfully employed, would find their life, as well as economic and creative productivity severely stymied. Think about that, the next time you hand your domestic helper their monthly salary.