Migrant workers’ rights group applauds end of kafala in Saudi

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 14 2021 12:32 AM

A group advocating for migrant workers’ rights lauded the abolition of the kafala in Saudi Arabia, which takes effect Sunday, March 14, calling “the historic action” a reason to celebrate 

In a statement on Saturday, Migrante International explained that the development would “allow expatriate Filipino and other foreign workers in (the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) to secure exit and re-entry visas, receive the last passport exit stamp and get a job in the Middle East country without the approval of a Saudi citizen sponsor.”

In November 2020, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development agreed to a labor reform initiative to smoothen contractual relations between a Saudi employer and a foreign worker. 

The reforms will take effect March 14.

The kafala — which ties workers to their employers, or sponsors, who are responsible for the employees’ visa and legal status — has been enforced in Saudi Arabia for about 70 years. 

Migrant workers, local and international NGOs, and the United Nations have condemned the policy described as akin to slavery because the system tended to exploit workers. 

The new initiative aims to make the Saudi labor market more attractive, the Saudi deputy minister for human resources said, by granting foreign workers the right to change jobs and leave the country without employers' permission.

Saudi Arabia is seeking to boost its private sector, part of an ambitious plan to diversify its oil-dependent economy.

Migrante’s Saudi Arabia chapter praised Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who has been driving economic reforms.

The group added, however that: “Even as we celebrate this historic action, Migrante-KSA is calling for the application of this policy on the more than 3 million domestic workers in the KSA.

“Most of these workers are foreigners who come from poor countries like the Philippines and are subjected to the worst abuses.”

Migrante-KSA also urged the Philippine government to ensure, through coordination with its Saudi counterpart, the minimum implementation of the unified contract. 

“We also warn against the possible negative effects of this move for migrant workers,” the organization said.

“Removing the kafala system may mean easier and more swift termination and deportation of migrant workers in order to prevent them from filing labor grievances.”

The move to scrap the kafala will help attract high-skilled workers and help create more jobs for Saudi nationals, Sattam Alharbi, deputy minister for development of the work environment, told Reuters in a phone interview in November, adding that hiring would be based on workers’ efficiency.

The new initiative will base the relation between employers and workers on a standard contract that should be certified by the government, and will allow workers to apply directly for services via an e-government portal, instead of a mandatory employers' approval. — With a report from Marwa Rashad, Reuters

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