UAE lifts strict sponsorship regulations on foreign workers

Amr El Feki, Monday 20 Dec 2010

The UAE took measures Saturday to ease regulation of its highly criticized foreign employee sponsorship (kafeel) system. The decision was welcomed by the Arab Labor Organization

Kafeel 1
Kafeel system begins to be banned in Gulf. (Photo: Reuters)

Measures to ease the kafeel system in the United Arab Emirates is welcomed by the general director of the Arab Labor Organization, Ahmad Luqman, who described the steps as, essentially, the "cancellation" of the internationally criticized system.

Last Saturday, the government of the United Arab Emirates declared that foreign workers will be able to terminate their contracts with employers (kafeel) and find new jobs, thereby abolishing a key aspect of the kafeel employment system in use in many of the Gulf's oil-rich countries.

These new procedures, launched by the ministry of labor, are scheduled to take effect next January.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is starting to improve regulations of its labour markets, Luqman told Ahram Online.

The cancelation of the kafeel (literally, guarantor) system in Bahrain, and most recently in Kuwait and the Emirates, reflects the current rush to modify the system in GCC, he added.

The kafeel system has been in use in the Gulf since 1970s, forcing foreigners who wish to find employment in these countries to have a guarantor in the host country.

If it is a government guarantor, it does so under a direct act, while if the job is in the private sector, it is usually the manager of the company or the person who has provided employment who becomes the guarantor.

Usually, the kafeel is a partner who gets a portion of the worker's earnings, while keeping the worker's passport, so that the worker cannot leave the country without the permission of his kafeel.

Currently, the term kafeel conjures a bad connotation, reflecting the system's bad reputation due to many incidents of abuse. And while the governments in the Gulf do support the victims the system, "the GCC must (still) abolish it to restore justice and dignity for the foreign employees," explains the general director of the Arab Labor Organization.

Luqman congratulated the Emirates for these taking these measures, and invited the other countries to follow in its footsteps.

According to the new regulations, a foreign employee whose work is terminated will be able to change his employer without waiting for six months, as was the case in the past.

In order to apply these new procedures, there are two conditions: First, both parties must terminate their contract amicably. Second, the employee has to be working for the employer for at least two years.

In the Emirates today there are a total of 3.11 million foreign workers from 202 countries, according to the latest statistics released by UAE's ministry of labour. Almost 1.5 million of these workers are Indians, who are mostly employed in the construction industry.

Bahrain abolished the Kafeel system in August 2009, and Kuwait is preparing to get rid of it next February. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, the largest employer of foreign labor, is not considering revisions to the system.


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