A comparison of ‘kafala’ system in GCC; Qatar lags behind on reforms
The kafala or sponsorship sytem practised by GCC nations has been stated as the main reason for abuse of the rights of low-income migrant workers.
Last week, the UN Special Rapporteur on migrant rights had also criticised this system. In 2010 Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged Gulf countries to “replace the Kafala system with updated labour laws that can better balance rights and duties”. The International Labour Organisation has also called for ‘major reform’ of the sponsorship system.
Later tonight, Amnesty International is to release a report on the exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar, and the sponsorship system is expected to once again come under intense scrutiny, as it is seen as the root of most migrant rights-related problems.
JustHere examines the key points of the sponsorship system in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE. Though all countries maintain some form of sponsorship, only Qatar and Saudi still have the exit permit system.
|Country||Sponsorship Law||Exit Permit|
|Bahrain||In 2009, Bahrain adopted the strongest sponsorship reforms in the region by permitting migrant workers to change employment without their employers’ consent and in the absence of allegations of nonpayment of wages or abuse. 2009’s legal reforms allowed migrant workers to change employment after meeting certain notice requirements and provided a 30-day grace period to remain legally in the country while they seek new employment. However, these positive changes do not apply to domestic workers.||Not Required|
|Qatar||Expatriates are allowed to work only under sponsorship. Once sponsored, the employee can not work for another employer unless a special permission has been granted.
Sponsorship can be transferred to another employer only after agreement from the existing and new employers. The right to change sponsors is not mandated by law and is left to the discretion of sponsors.
If the employee has not been granted a release letter or No Objection Certificate (NOC), he would be required to leave the country for a minimum of two years before returning to work for another employer.
|UAE||UAE Laws require foreign nationals to be primarily sponsored by a UAE national (citizen), except in the case of domestic workers, where foreign nationals can be sponsors too. Businesses are able to sponsor their employees mainly because a UAE national is a partner, owner or a majority shareholder of the business-sponsor (this might differ in the free zones).
As a general rule, a labour ban is still imposed on all expatriate employees in the UAE who are working in the private sector when they want to change from one employer to another if they left the current employer without having completed a minimum of two years service. The ban could be for six months or a year.
But the ban can be lifted if the new employer offers the candidate a higher position and a salary equal or above the salary set by the ministry against his or her qualifications.
|Saudi Arabia||Saudi Arabia’s sponsorship system, requires all migrant workers to have a Saudi citizen as their sponsor who is usually the employer. The sponsor is responsible for their visa and legal status.
In April 2012, Labour Ministry had proposed abolishing the kafala system by transferring immigration sponsorship to newly created recruitment and placement agencies, but later retracted its decision.
|Kuwait||Under Article 3 of Kuwait’s Private Sector Labour Law, an expatriate worker must obtain a work permit issued by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, under the sponsorship of a Kuwaiti entity. The law also states that a release is required from the sponsor for the work permit of an employee to be transferred to the sponsorship of another Kuwaiti entity.
According to recent reports, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour has established the Public Authority for Labour Affairs in a bid to abolish the sponsorship system for private sector labour force. The authority would be directly responsible for all matters concerning private sector employees, including recruitment of expatriate labour forces and managing employer-employee relationship.
|Oman||Under the Kafala system, migrant workers are not allowed to change employers without their sponsors’ consent. Otherwise the worker is considered as an illegal resident in the country according to a law issued in 2003.
If the worker’s service period was less than two years in Oman, there must be a release letter from the former sponsor indicating that he (the sponsor) has no objection to the employment of that worker by any other employer without being subject to the two-year restriction.
For a migrant worker to change his sponsorship to a new sponsor (employer) while still inside the country, there must be a release letter from the former sponsor and approved by the Directorate General of Labour.
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