Saudi holds on to guarantor system for workers

Ahram Online, Thursday 20 Jan 2011

Saudi's labour minister says no cancellation of guarantor (kafeel) system is in sight, disappointing rights groups

Saudi Labour Minister Adel Faqih denied his ministry's intention to cancel the guarantor system for gaining work permits; however, the ministry is working on a new mechanisms to deal with permits. 
Faqih pointed out that a strict new law would address those who bring in foreign labour on illegal work permits. Moreover, companies would be obliged to hire Saudis if capable Saudis were available unemployment in the oil rich kingdom reached 10.5 per cent in 2009, according to official figures.

The kafeel system has been in use in the Gulf since the 1970s, forcing foreigners who wish to find employment to have a guarantor in the host country. If the government is called upon to be a guarantor, it does so by direct act; if the position 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. The kafeel system has been always criticized by the International Labour Organisation and human rights organisations.  

Some Gulf countries started to move away from the kafeel system. Last December, the government of the United Arab Emirates declared that foreign workers would be able to terminate their contracts with employers and find new jobs, thereby abolishing a key aspect of the kafeel employment system.

Bahrain abolished the kafeel system in August 2009, and Kuwait is preparing to get end it in February.

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