Rethinking sponsorship system

December 1, 20141 Comment

The sponsorship (kafala) system in the Gulf needs a good dust-off to provide workers and employers alike protection from fraud and abuses. During much of 2013, Saudi Arabia engaged in a major overhaul that addressed undocumented workers, workers’ rights to a safe working environment, and expat women in the workplace along with the ongoing Saudization efforts.
The scandal over the alleged abuses of expats working on the World Cup 2022 projects in Qatar has placed the GCC in the crosshairs of international human rights organizations that already take a dim view how the sponsorship system works in the region. The Qatar migrant worker issues may have prompted some gulf nations to perform some soul-searching, and the result may be a GCC-wide sponsorship system that puts all Gulf countries under a single umbrella.
How effective this will be among nations not particularly known for agreeing on much of anything remains to be seen, but the suggestion holds some intriguing possibilities. Labor ministries of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) recently met in Kuwait to tackle this and other migrant worker issues.
There is no question that the sponsorship system is in dire need of reform. Some Arab countries have abolished the system while others are considering it. The system has become ripe for abuses. Workers can’t switch jobs without the permission of their employer, thus forcing some workers in a perpetual state of abuse. And workers — some 15 million throughout the GCC — can’t simply quit and leave the country unless they have an “exit” visa.
While it’s unknown whether labor ministries at the GCC summit would reconsider these requirements, there is a consensus that the systems needs change and must be more humane to its workers. For example, potential changes could include a 48-hour workweek, private quarters and a day off for domestic workers, although enforcement would be difficult under the best of circumstances.
Yet major labor policy issues would require unprecedented cooperation among all six GCC countries. A pay scale for the different categories of workers must be unified. Would migrant workers receive relatively healthy salaries that are offered in Dubai and Kuwait, or more modest wages such as in Saudi Arabia? Would worker accommodations be consistent from country to country?
There is evidence that the six countries can agree on consistent across-the-board policies, albeit policies that benefit employers. Labor ministers agreed to establish a certification program that assesses the skills of workers originating from Pakistan, India and the Philippines. In essence, countries would test workers to determine their skill level and then issue certification for those skills. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have already established an experimental certification program, with their neighbors indicating that may join them by the end of 2015. This would be also beneficial to the public who often employ untrained drivers to transport their families or unskilled workers to perform construction work that may be substandard and a threat to the safety of families.
For the workers, Gulf labor ministers agreed to wage protection programs, speedy resolution of labor disputes and better training and orientation for workers coming to host countries for the first time. While these are remarkable improvements in worker and employer rights, the present sponsorship system still falls short of better protection of workers from abuse, especially domestic employees working in anonymity and behind closed doors and who may be trapped with no where to go.
Arab societies are prone to slow, incremental changes but the spotlight on Qatar World Cup 2022 projects illustrate, if nothing else, that GCC countries must move quickly to resolve these lingering problems that are a product of an outdated system.

Source : ArabNews


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  1. We are poor children home India,please we need food and education please anybody help.we need

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