The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has announced an important reform regarding its ‘kafala’ or sponsorship labor system, allowing private-sector workers to change jobs and leave the country without their sponsors’ consent starting in March 2021.
The Kafala system, which is predominantly observed in the Arab world, places contractual restrictions on (migrant) employees, giving employers control over the lives of some 10 million migrant workers.
KSA Plans to End ‘Kafala’ System Starting 2021
The Saudi Ministry of Human Resources on Wednesday (November 4) explained that the Labor Reform initiative would apply to all expats in the private sector and take effect starting in March 2021, the BBC reported.
Once fully in effect, this would mean that workers will no longer have to seek permission from their employers to leave or change jobs. Moreover, workers will have the freedom to travel outside of Saudi Arabia without their employers’ approval.
In line with this, workers will also be allowed to apply directly for government services, and their contracts with their employers will be documented digitally.
Commenting on this update, Deputy Minister Abdullah bin Nasser Abuthunain, shared: “Through this initiative, we aim to build an attractive labor market and improve the working environment.”
The minister also noted that the reforms would also help achieve the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, the country’s plan to diversify its oil-dependent economy.
For the longest time, the kafala system has been criticized by many human rights advocates, even calling it a type of “modern slavery”.
According to Rothna Begum, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, that despite this change, Saudi’s move does not aim for the full abolition of the system just yet, as it appears that workers will still need to have an employer act as their sponsor to enter Saudi Arabia and that employers would retain the power to renew or cancel workers’ residency permits at any time.
In this setup, employees are still in a position wherein they can still face abuse and exploitation.
A Welcome Change -DFA
Meanwhile, the Philippines’ DFA Undersecretary Sarah Arriola welcomed the development as a positive change, noting that the Philippines has fought hard against the slavery system involving migrant workers in the Middle East, which has affected thousands of Filipinos, most especially household workers.
Arriola also pointed out that because of the existing laws, repatriation efforts had been more difficult, especially during this pandemic due to the lack of exit visas from employers.
The DFA undersecretary is optimistic about this move and hopes that more countries in the Middle East will soon follow suit.
In 2009, Saudi Arabia’s fellow GCC nation, Bahrain, eliminated its kafala system.
Arriola noted that Saudi Arabia abolishing its own kafala system is even a bigger step towards protecting the rights of migrant workers.
Once in full effect, employers who refuse to honor the Kingdom’s reform will face legal sanctions. Arriola also urged OFWs in the kingdom to report such instances to the DFA through the Philippine Embassy in the Kingdom so that they can provide legal assistance.
Catch the full video report of GMA News Online via OFW Help/Facebook below:
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