Sister-in-law Marjorie at Risk in Kuwait

My sister-in-law, Marjorie, 44, is an OFW. Overseas Filipino Worker. She has worked in Kuwait as a domestic worker for a year. Marjorie has labored for three different employers since her arrival. Fortunately she has a good employment agency that allowed her to find a different family to work for when conditions became too difficult with a particular employer. The third family she is currently assigned to also has another Filipina employed by them so Marjorie has a co-worker for the first time since coming to Kuwait. DSC

The present clan pays her slightly more than the 200 US Dollars she was previously earning. They also allow the use of a cell phone, something the other two employers did not permit. Marjorie was able to smuggle her SIM card from the Philippines since bringing a mobile phone was strictly prohibited when she entered the country. She uses the cell phone of her co-worker (which was purchased by the current employer) and just switches the SIM card when she sends a text to the Philippines. She has a year left on her contract with the agency. 

We care for Marjorie's  two children, our niece Shaina, age 13, and nephew Sharwen, age 11. Their father left them over a decade ago.  Because of money my sister-in-law had to borrow from other relatives to pay for her employment agency fees, she is only able to send P1500 (34.47 US Dollars) a month for the support of her kids. Shina has needed medical treatment recently for an ear infection. Fortunately our sister-in-law Alida was able to enroll her in a program which covers her physician fees, but we're paying for her necessary medication. We manage. Have to take care of family.

A recent Trafficking in Persons (TIP)  report from the State Department of the United States website shows that Kuwait is listed as a Tier 3 country. Tier 3 countries do not appear to be trying to reach the minimum standard – and they could face limited U.S. sanctions.  The website further states that  "Kuwait is a destination country for men and women who are subjected to forced labor and to a lesser degree forced prostitution. Men and women migrate from India, Egypt, Bangladesh, Syria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nepal, Iran, Jordan, Ethiopia, and Iraq to work in Kuwait, most of them in the domestic service, construction, and sanitation sectors.

Although most of these migrants enter Kuwait voluntarily, upon arrival some are subjected to conditions of forced labor by their sponsors and labor agents, including nonpayment of wages (Marjorie was not paid for any wages this past last November by employer #2), long working hours without rest, deprivation of food, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as the withholding of passports or confinement to the workplace.

Although Kuwait has a standard contract for domestic workers delineating their rights, many workers report work conditions that are substantially different from those described in the contract; some workers never see the contract at all. (This is quite common. My wife worked as an OFW for two years in Taiwan and was not given one day off in those two years. A direct violation of her contract. If she would have complained another Filipina would have just taken her place.)

Many of the migrant workers arriving for work in Kuwait have paid exorbitant fees to recruiters in their home countries (such as is the case with Marjorie as noted before, she can only send home P1500 a month due to the high fees imposed by her agency) or are coerced into paying recruitment fees in Kuwait that, by Kuwaiti law, should be paid for by the employer – a practice that makes workers highly vulnerable to forced labor once in Kuwait.

Due to provisions of Kuwait’s sponsorship law that restrict workers’ movements and penalize workers for running away from abusive workplaces, domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to forced labor inside private homes (my sister-in-law works in a private home.) In addition, media sources report that runaway domestic workers fall prey to forced prostitution by agents who exploit their illegal status.

The government also did not make significant progress in fulfilling other commitments made since 2007, such as enacting the draft domestic workers’ bill to provide domestic workers with the same rights as other workers or establishing a large-capacity permanent shelter for victims of trafficking. The government similarly made only minimal efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period. For these reasons, Kuwait is placed on Tier 3 for a fifth consecutive year."


In the same Trafficking in Persons report,  the US State Department took the Philippines out of its Tier 3 category and placed it on Tier 2. Tier 2 means  that these countries do not fully meet the standards in the anti-human trafficking campaign but are making efforts to do so and thus qualify for assistance from the US.

Since Kuwait remains as a Tier 3 country on the TIP report, Marjorie remains at risk working in Kuwait although the working conditions at her present employer are better than the previous two families she worked for. She is able to send occasional text messages home and has not reported any type of abuse with the current employer.

Sadly, there are not many employment available   for my sister-in-law and at the age of 44 she is considered too old by many companies in the Philippines. Many businesses here discriminate against "older" workers. Forty-four is considered old.

Unfortunately working as an OFW in countries such as Kuwait is the best hope of employment that Marjorie and millions of others in the Philippines have. Years spent away from your loved ones. Such a pattern will continue to exist unless the government can establish some viable programs that can offer gainful employment for its citizens. Don't look for that any time soon.

46 comments

  1. Its sad but cant blame Kuwait or other countries that take on OFWs. Its responsibility of Philippine goverbment to take care of its citizens. As long as there is poverty, people will go abroard and if Kuwait is willing to pay $200 and a Philippino is willing to accept it for all of its risks, thats part of the system. Indonesia blocked its people from working in Malaysia, I wonder if Philippines would ever go that far.

  2. Dave,
    My sister worked in Kuwait for almost 2 decades now but not as a domestic helper but working in a company and also suffered delayed salaries, as of today i learned from my nephew that my sister didn’t able to send money for her 3 kids in the Philippines for almost 4 months now so i was shocked, my nephew then told me that in order for them to pay the house rent, my sister’s son needs to sell their laptop computer and their double decker bed,i don’t know how my sister’s son able to sell those items in order for them to pay the rent, so it’s really depressing,on the other hand my other niece was working in Bahrain and is also at risk of losing her job there due to the new saudi laws, well,if this is the case i want them to just go home and look for a job somewhere else, KUWAIT ,Saudi Arabia and other places in the middle east are not safe for them..I wish the gov’t do something to help those returning OFW’s to find job at home so they don’t have to leave their family.

    1. Rebecca, Dave,

      It’s sad the way alot of the Middle Eastern countries treat foreign workers. They get paid slave wages for the amount of hours they work, plus they pretty much get treated like slaves. Overall i think they would be better off just staying in the philippines. Take Care.

      1. It is sad, Papa Duck, and I wish the government would initiate some kind of meaning job employment in the Philippines. Truth is, they seem to want to depend on OFWs and the remittances they send home which prop up the economy instead of instituting some real change.

        1. Agree with staying in the Phils instead of going so far to potentially be abused. I understand people in the Philippines are financially desperate. I also think it is foolish to separate so far from home just to be a slave for so little profit. There has to be a better way.

    2. Four months without a salary is terrible, Rebecca. The conditions under which OFWs in the Middle East work are horrendous. The workers have no rights and are at the mercy of the company they work for such as your sister or private employers such as employ my sister-in-law as a domestic helper. Unfortunately the better paying jobs with better working conditions, such as Hong Kong and Singapore are going to younger workers and leaving many “older” workers such as my sister-in-law going to the Middle East.

      Well, at least it looks like the new Saudi laws which are forcing companies to hire Saudi residents instead of foreign workers along with the new ban on any domestic workers from Indonesia and the Philippines will cause a marked reduction in OFWs going there. However, that will mean less job opportunities. What is the Philippine government doing about it? I’m sorry, but I had to laugh when I saw an article about a month ago in which the government was praising this new program of OFWs coming back to the Philippines and was providing jobs to …..30 people. That’s right, out of the thousands for OFWs returning from the troubled Middle East region, the government was bragging about giving out 30 jobs.

      1. Dave, it’s a double blow to Filipinos. The new Saudi (Nitaqat) law forcing companies to hire Saudis instead of foreign workers does not apply to domestic workers, so it will affect skilled OFW only. The Nitaqat law is mainly designed to lower male unemployment to prevent them from challenging the Saudi royal family or turning to terrorism. Remember that most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi, the Saudi govt is worried about being overthrown by domestic terrorists.

        Saudi Arabia is still allowing foreign domestic workers, just not Filipinos and Indonesians. The Philippines govt demanded a minimum wage of $400 a month instead of $200 and the Indonesian govt demanded a memorandum of understanding to protect Indonesian workers’ rights. The Saudis wouldn’t agree to either because they can get domestic workers cheaper and with fewer restrictions from other poor countries.

        1. Yes, Lance, that new law will affect skilled Filipino workers since the Saudis are going to punish any companies that do not hire more Saudis. With all of the tensions in the Middle East and governments being overthrown, you’re correct about the new law put into effect to mainly cut down on the male unemployment which will try to stave off any overthrow of the government as you stated.

          And yep, Saudi Arabia is not banning domestic workers from the other countries because they can easily find workers from other countries to work for cheaper wages. I’ve also just heard a report that Bangladesh is going to get more jobs that used to go to China and the Philippines because their workers are working even cheaper.

          1. Yeah, a number of low end Chinese and foreign owned factories are moving out of China to lower wage countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and India, in order to stay competitive. I imagine once these new countries get too expensive then the low wage factories will move first to Cambodia and Laos and then eventually to Africa, but that is still some years off.

  3. Okay, some hot-button issues here:

    1. The Middle East angers me. They got rich off U.S. oil. Now, most of the world’s trouble emanates from there.

    2. Mexico is another country living off remittances from illegal workers in the U.S. instead of instituting real reform at home. Come on, Philippines, you can do better than that!

    3. My wife and I started two small businesses in Nueva Ecija and employ the family members, so that they can provide a little bit for themselves. It certainly isn’t much, but allows them to stay home and not have to look for work in strange and dangerous places. I encourage my fellow expats to pony up a little bit of that retirement fund and put your in-laws to work!

    Thanks for the soapbox!

    1. Thanks for sharing your “hot-button” issues, Monty Man. I completely agree with all of your points. The Philippines does have the capacity and the resources to do better, but unfortunately the prevailing attitude is to just keep encouraging the OFWs to keep sending those remittances back home instead of instituting some programs that will provide real jobs.
      I commend your asawa and you for employing your relatives in your enterprises (by the way, would you like to share what those are sometime, just curious.) That is a great idea you have. I have to think if there is some enterprise we could set up to help our relatives living at “The Compound.”

  4. Ten years ago my wife worked as a domestic servant in Kuwait 18 hours a day, seven days a week for a cruel employer. In spite of documented abuses, the employment agency refused to intervene until I paid for her ticket home.
    A month later I married her in Iloilo, and for the last 8 1/2 years, we’ve lived in Indiana.
    As you say, sadly enough, when they leave, other Filipinas who paid large placement fees, will eagerly take their place, only to be quickly disillusioned by the working conditions.

    1. Sorry to hear about what your wife had to endure in Kuwait, Joseph. Sadly, her situation is endured by many other OFWs. It seems that the attitude of a lot of the Middle Eastern employers is to treat the domestic helpers as slaves. Terrible conditions.

      1. Hi Joe, well at least your wife got out of that place safely. I heard there are hundreds of (mostly) Filipinas hiding in the PI embassy after escaping from their abusive employers. One even jumped from a 3 story building to escape. These are just what we heard. The sad thing about this is, their fellow Filipinos (men) who are in position of authority exploits them also, usually for sex. To say that the whole situation is f…ed up is an understatement!

        1. Yep, I’ve heard those stories, too, Christine. And I’ve heard about those Filipinos in authority that are indeed exploiting the women, also. Terrible, terrible.

  5. After two tours in the Middle East, i became quite familiar with the Arab mindset towards foriegners to include OFW’s. Quite simply if your not Arab or Islamic, your not worth squat. In fact it is morally acceptable and not even considered what we would call a “sin” to abuse, cheat, steal from, sexually assualt or even take the life of a Non-believer.

    1. I have read that, Scott, about the Arab mindset towards foreigners but have never experienced it firsthand as you have. Unfortunately there are too many cases of documented abuse towards OFWs in the Middle East. My own brother-in-law was murdered in Saudi Arabia years ago and absolutely nothing was done about it by the Saudi or Philippine government.

      1. I’m sorry Dave, but I gotta say this: The Arabs traditionally have always been Barbaric. Drag them into the 21st Century and cloth them in gold, but they’re still Barbarians. Their treatment of OFWs, and other nationalities, and their condoning the slave trade, in particular children from African countries cannot be explained in any other ways.

        1. Well said Christine. Slavery was only banned in most Muslim Middle Eastern countries in the 1960′s (and in other Muslim countries only 4 years ago) due to pressure from Western countries. In fact 20% of the population of Saudi Arabia in the 1950′s were slaves. Slavery was allowed in ancient Islam, as it was in ancient Judaism (and possibly Christianity depending how you interpret the Bible), but the huge difference is that modern Judaism and Christianity have banned slavery for several hundred years. The Koran however says it is the literal word of God and says it cannot be changed under punishment of death for blasphemy. This causes problems for any Muslims who want to modernize and update Islam’s ancient customs.

          Most people don’t realize that more African slaves were sold to Muslim countries than to the USA, Caribbean and Latin America combined, because Muslims have not apologized for it like the West has. Significant modern day slavery still exists today in Muslim countries in Africa. Mauritania only banned slavery in 2007 due to pressure from Western countries. This law is largely ignored and 20% of the population are still slaves today. Of course you should do your own research and verify it for yourself, but here is an easy to read version about slavery in Africa today:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_modern_Africa

          1. Disturbing information, Lance. Thanks for shedding some more light on this topic. Unbelievable that slavery is still acceptable among some cultures. How inhumane!

    2. Scott, you are right about the Muslim Arab mindset. The Koran institutionalizes discrimination, saying that Christians and Jews are only worth 1/2 of a Muslim, and all others (Hindus, Buddhists, etc) are only worth 1/16th of a Muslim. The reason Muslim Arabs think it is “morally acceptable and not even considered what we would call a “sin” to abuse, cheat, steal from, sexually assualt or even take the life of a Non-believer” is because Islam divides people into 2 groups: the House of Islam (Dar al-Islam) and the House of War (Dar al-Harb). It is seen as a way of attacking their “enemies”.

  6. You know a country’s economy is in shambes when they count the remitances of thousands of OFW’s as part of their GNP and use it to artificially prop up the peso value.

    Evan sadder is the fact that I have 4 nieces that went through 4 years of nursing college and only 1 of them actually works as a nurse here after spending 2 years as an unpaid intern recieving a meager P80 a day as a travel expense. It costs a few hundred thousand pesos to send them to college and they are exploited here in the Philippines as well. My Married niece that lives with us we sent to 4 years of college to get a degree in commerce. She landed a job checking inventory for a local spice company working 10-12 hours a day, six days a week for a whopping P265 a day ! That is considered a “good job” here ! AMAZING !

    Well earlier this month her husband who is betwwen contracts as a cooks assistant for an international cargo company started seeling fish balls and french fries out our front foor and they earn after expences P400-600 a day working 6 hours a day. Needless to say my niece quit the company and my new son in law starts a new contract on the 7th. Differance is his take home pay wil be $1,500 a month.

    Well if they stay with it I’ll pony up to convert my downstairs living room (abt 30 sqmtrs) into a resturant for them. At the very least I’ll feel better knowing my niece will be getting good use out of her commerce degree, but making more than double the pay selling fish balls and french fries.

    How messed up is that ?

    Paul in Iloilo

    1. Absolutely right, Paul. The Philippine economy would be in a shambles without the OFW remittances, and it does artificially prop up the value of the peso.
      I’ve read that many nursing students such as your niece have been exploited by hospitals in the Philippines, paying them meager travel expenses or no salary whatsoever so the interns can gain experience for a nursing position. And P265 a day (about 6 USD) for your niece that checks inventory for a local spice company. Yep, that’s the same minimum wage that the SM Department Store workers in Iloilo receive, unbelievable.

      Glad to hear about the fishball and french fry business. Good of you to convert your living room. Sounds like they have a great little business, because P400-P600 a day for six hours of work is good money in the Philippines. Good luck.

      1. Maria, hope you don’t mind me jumping in. From Wikipedia: “The most commonly eaten type of fish balls is colloquially known simply as fishballs. It is somewhat flat in shape and most often made from the meat of cuttlefish or pollock and served with a sweet and spicy sauce or with a thick black sweet and sour sauce.Fish balls in the Philippines are sold by street vendors pushing wooden deep frying carts.”

        Fish balls are quite popular in the Philippines. At the local SM Malls I see a lot of Fish and Squid Balls at the food courts. My wife does eat them occasionally, but I’ve never tasted one myself.

  7. “Marjorie was able to smuggle her SIM card from the Philippines since bringing a mobile phone was strictly prohibited when she entered the country.”

    Dave, does the Saudi Arabia govt ban the import of cell phones for all foreign workers? If it does, then the govt is complicit in the abuse of foreign workers, as this prevents them from calling for help.

    1. Nope, Marjorie was freely able to bring her cell phone into Saudi Arabia and was able to make calls and send text messages to the Philippines, Lance. That’s how we heard about the false charges she was accused of and gave her the number of the Philippine embassy in Saudi Arabia and their location. Her employer knew Marjorie was in contact with her family in the Philippines and that put pressure on them to send her back to the Philippines even though the family had reported the “incident” to police.

      1. Oops, I meant does the KUWAITI govt ban the import of cell phones for all foreign workers? If it does, then the govt is complicit in the abuse of foreign workers, as this prevents them from calling for help.

        The article says: “Marjorie was able to smuggle her SIM card from the Philippines since bringing a mobile phone was strictly prohibited when she entered the country.”

        1. Well, Lance, I believe Marjorie’s employment agency told her not to bring the cell phone since cell phones were not allowed. However, I ran across this article about some OFWs that were repatriated from Kuwait where one of the OFW stated the following: “My employer beat me up because I called my family in the Philippines, even as the use of cellular phones is allowed. That was the only reason.” I cannot honestly state if the cell phone ban is a Kuwaiti regulation or up to the individual employer since Marjorie’s third employer does allow cell phone usage.

            1. Hi, Lance. Just got verification from my boss. Seems that Marjorie’s employment agency in the Philippines was the one that told her no cell phones are allowed. The Kuwaiti government does not ban them, but individual employers can. Marjorie just called last night with some BIG NEWS. More on that in a future post.

  8. “Many of the migrant workers arriving for work in Kuwait have paid exorbitant fees to recruiters in their home countries (such as is the case with Marjorie as noted before, she can only send home P1500 a month due to the high fees imposed by her agency)”

    Dave, for P1500 a month, wouldn’t Marjorie be better off starting her own business in Guimaras, like what your brother-in-law did?

    1. Well, probably, Lance, but first she has to get the agency fees paid off and serve out the rest of her contract. If she breaks the contract she has to pay for her plane ticket home and pay extremely high penalties for canceling the contract.

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