Recruitment of Sri Lankan female domestic workers for Kuwait has been suspended following a dispute over a new insurance premium introduced by the Kuwaiti recruiting agent appointed by the Sri Lanka government.
Last month the agent, Al Haooq, introduced an insurance premium of 50 Kuwaiti dinars, or Rs. 20,000, for each Sri Lanka housemaid taking up employment in Kuwait. Arab employers have refused to pay this sum, and this has resulted in a sharp drop in the number of domestic helpers heading to Kuwait.
A rival licensed recruiting agent in the Arab state is offering an insurance premium of Rs. 6,000, but the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment is determined to retain its current Kuwait agency.
According to W. M. P. Alfonso, president of the Association for Licensed Foreign Employment Agencies (ALFEA), a prospective Arab employer must provide Rs. 160,000 to retain a domestic helper from Sri Lanka. “It would be unfair to increase this sum by an additional Rs. 20,000,” he told The Sunday Times.
Mr. Alfonso said there had been an 85 per cent drop in the number of Sri Lankan domestics going to Kuwait after the insurance cover was introduced, and warned that the drop could continue if matters were not speedily resolved.
According to Mr. Alfonso, the present Kuwait agent Al Haooq is not even registered with the Kuwaiti authorities. He alleges that the agent was recently jailed for operating an illegal safe house for some 70 Indian runaway maids that had been described as a “makeshift brothel”. He said the agent, described as an Egyptian national, was even allowed to operate a mini-office from the premises of the Sri Lanka Embassy in Kuwait City.
Mr. Alfonso says the insurance premium for Sri Lankan domestic helpers in the nearby United Arab Emirates (UAE) was Rs. 6,000.
Meanwhile, Kingsley Ranawaka, chairman of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, told The Sunday Times that the insurance premium of Rs. 20,000 was fixed according to proper procedure and that there was no basis for criticism by other Kuwaiti job agencies. He said Al Haooq was chosen through a tender advertised in the newspapers.
“An Insurance Board panel in Colombo had approved Al Haooq after a review of the applicants who had responded to the tender. Their approval was endorsed by the Ministry of Foreign Employment,” Mr. Ranawaka said.
“The agent who’s offering a lesser premium should have applied when the tender was first advertised. It is too late now.”
Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Hussein Bhaila told The Sunday Times that recruiting agencies in Kuwait were worried because they had to pay the insurance cover from the commissions that they earned from the worker.
“The agent who is offering a smaller premium should have applied earlier through the proper channels,” Mr. Bhaila said.
The insurance covers death, injury, repatriation and legal expenses, among other things, Mr. Bhaila said.
There are some 200,000 Sri Lankans working in Kuwait, 65 per cent of whom are women working as domestic helpers.
According to official figures, some 35,000 Sri Lankan women take up employment in Kuwait each year.