Lawyer Mohammad Al-Jasem

By Faten Omar

KUWAIT: Many workers have lost their jobs since the country went on a coronavirus lockdown. As Kuwait imposed a partial curfew and closed its borders, airports and businesses and suspended schools, many people faced unfair actions. Kuwait Times spoke to Mohammad Al-Jasem, lawyer and Interpol-accredited expert in international law enforcement cooperation, to learn about the legal issues faced by workers.

Many employers have terminated their workers due the current situation. But Jasem said an employer does not have the right to fire his employees according to article 41 of the labor law, where the law affirms that the employer cannot terminate the services of a worker without notice, or else he must offer compensation in recognition of his loss.

"Unless the worker has committed a mistake that resulted in a large loss for the employer or violated the contract, the employer cannot just fire the worker. If it was proven that the employer terminated the worker for no obvious reason, the employee shall be entitled to end-of-service benefits and compensation for the material and moral damages suffered," he added.

Regarding some cases where some employees were forced to sign a paper giving up their financial rights, Jasem said: "The employer does not have the right to do so and it is legally void. In many labor cases, this has not been taken into account, and the verdict was in favor of the employee despite the existence of such a paper. Likewise, the employer does not have the right to cut or suspend salaries, and is obliged to pay wages in full throughout the period of suspension as long as the employer wishes to continue working with the employee, according to article 61 of the labor law."

Teachers' salaries
Kuwait Times has received many complaints from teachers, and Jasem replied to all inquiries and related issues. The ministry of education has guaranteed the salaries of private and government school teachers, but what about teachers and professors in nurseries and universities? Jasem explained that the law and decisions also apply to them. "Owners are obligated to pay their employees full wages throughout the period of suspension. But the owners of these activities can end the service of the employees who have not completed the trial period by a formal notice," he said.

About complaints from teachers regarding deduction of their salaries due to being outside the country, he said that there are two aspects to this case. "First, if the teacher was outside the country during a vacation but the conditions prevented them from returning for a reason outside their control, such as the closure of airports, this action is considered illegal and they are entitled to claim what was deducted from their dues.

In the second case, if the absence was intentional and the salary was deducted based on proven evidence presented to the school, then the teacher has no right to claim the rest of their salary due to their absence without an excuse, due to the fact that they were able to return before the occurrence of the circumstance," Jasem said.

"In normal circumstances, according to the labor law, the school does not have the right to compel teachers to work during their annual vacation, but in these exceptional circumstances, refer to the decisions of the ministry of education and the Council of Ministers with regards to canceling the summer vacation," he added.

Jasem explained the legal steps in case of filing a complaint. "The legal procedures start with submitting a complaint of entitlement at the ministry of social affairs regarding late salaries, end of service, request to transfer sponsorship, unpaid deductions, etc. The complaint will be registered with a case number, and both the worker and employer will be notified about the date of the session and the name of the researcher.

An investigation will then be carried out by a specialist researcher at the ministry. In the event of the expiry of the residency, the worker is given a three-month extension until the complaint is resolved, and if the worker is in the right, their entitlements will be given to them and they will be transferred to another sponsor. After that, the complaint will be transferred to the labor court to calculate their dues," he explained.

Tenants' rights
A number of stores are closed due to the lockdown, so Kuwait Times asked Jasem about tenants' legal rights. He said Kuwaiti law does not give the tenant of a shop or any commercial activity the right to be exempted from the rent in full, but the law allows him to request the termination of the contract or the reduction of the rent (unless the contract stipulates otherwise), in accordance with the provision of article 581 of the Kuwait civil law.

In the event that the landlord files an eviction lawsuit, the law gives the judge the discretionary power to seek an excuse from the tenant for delaying the payment of rent, and the tenant has the right to request the termination of the contract or the reduction of the rent, based on the failure to use the rented place completely and circumstances outside his will. "Under these circumstances, it is better to agree on temporary and exceptional agreements such as deferring the rent amount or paying in installments until this crisis is resolved, as the courts are currently closed and procedures may take a long time," he advised.

Jasem told Kuwait Times that he has started receiving many complaints from employees against their employers, some of whom compel the employee to sign on vacations with no salary during the suspension period, as well as some business owners who reduced or delayed the payment of salaries due to the current crisis, and in some cases workers have been fired.

"We have also received complaints regarding contractual obligations between individuals, such as rent for private housing as well as commercial activities. Many tenants were unable to pay the rent due to the current conditions on the one hand and the owners' insistence on their rights on the other," he said.