THE Gulf media has published two news items during the past two weeks. The first was on Dec. 13 about Qatar cancelling the sponsorship system for expatriate workers.
The new expat law in Qatar protects the rights of both workers and employers, ensuring smooth functioning of private institutions and state’s business activities as well as creating a suitable working environment in the country.
Second, Bahrain implemented a new labor law that will nullify the sponsorship system as of April 2017.
My question is what’s the Kingdom’s position on this issue? And when are we going to scrap the sponsorship system?
We know that some individuals and organizations misuse the system for human trafficking, which goes against the principles of human rights. Consequently human rights organizations across the world cite our kafala system as an example of human rights in the Kingdom.
In my opinion Saudi Arabia has already adopted a number of corrective measures in this respect to avoid criticisms by international human rights groups:
• All the technical terms related to the sponsorship system have been changed. The term sponsorship transfer has been changed to transfer of service.
• Expats have been given freedom of movement and while the government has instructed employers not to seize travel documents of expats.
• Some electronic programs have been introduced to protect rights of expats. These include the measure to monitor payment of their salaries every month.
• The government interferes if stoppage of services of companies and individuals involves violation of expats’ rights.
• A law to combat human trafficking has been issued through a royal decree on 21/71430H.
• Formation of a permanent committee to combat human trafficking at Human Rights Commission. It includes representatives from the ministries of Interior, Justice, Culture and Information, Foreign Affairs, and Labor and Social Development, as well as Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution and the Human Rights Commission. The committee will coordinate with international organizations and NGOs related to corporate partnerships. It will also organize a number of workshops and seminars that will contribute to spreading awareness to fight human trafficking.
• The International Organization of Migration has signed an agreement with the Human Rights Commission in the Kingdom on Dec. 9, 2016, to strengthen efforts to fight human trafficking and provide care and protection to victims.
The above measures emphasize that Saudi Arabia is well prepared to scrap the sponsorship system. Such a decision would not mean unrestricted entry of expat workers to the Kingdom. Expats will come to the Kingdom on the basis of a contract that would regulate the relationship between the worker and the employer on the basis of labor regulations.
It will also contribute to liberating the job market and improving the condition of expat workers. Salaries of expat workers will be reduced substantially due to an increase in supply as the new system would allow expats to switch jobs freely.
It will also contribute to reorganizing the labor market, getting rid of unqualified and unskilled workers, who will be replaced by professionals and skilled workers.
I believe that the scrapping of the sponsorship system would benefit both expat workers and the Saudi employers. It will help the country get rid of unskilled workers, who often get involved in various crimes and do not follow the country’s rules and regulations. By Ali Al-Shuraimi, 25 December 2016