Saudis rethink labour sponsorship system

The Saudi Arabia Ministry of Labour and the National Human Rights Society plan to replace the kingdom's current sponsorship system.
By Reema Memon
Sat 12 Jul 2008 04:00 AM

The Saudi Arabia Ministry of Labour and the National Human Rights Society plan to replace the kingdom's current sponsorship system.

A study conducted by the NHRS seeks to redefine the relationship between foreign workers and Saudi employers that would revoke the current sponsorship system and replace it with a government commission. The new system provides guidelines to stamp out pressure to exploit foreign workers in jobs other than that for which they were originally hired.

Under the current sponsorship system, employers keep their workers' passports. Workers require their sponsor's permission for every activity, including buying a car or changing jobs.

Dr Bandr bin Muhammad Al-Hajar, chairman of the National Human Rights Society (NHRS), said the Council of Ministers had approved the plan eight years ago, but it had not been implemented.

Many Saudis and expatriate workers, especially in the construction industry, oppose the current sponsorship system.

"We face a lot of restrictions," said Mohammed Qayoom, a Pakistani guard. "An expatriate is basically handicapped if the sponsor is not around."

Saudi businessman Mansoor Al Ghamdi also welcomed moves for change. "I know plenty of people who fear coming to Saudi Arabia due to this. The system gives us a negative reputation internationally and may prevent successful progress for the kingdom."

aid The NHRS has been active in advancing the human rights cases of foreign workers in the Kingdom in cooperation with the government agencies.

Al Hajjar said that under the new system, passports of workers would not be kept by employers. A worker would not need the permission of an employer to bring his family or apply for a Hajj permit, or bring his relatives on visit visas, and deal with public organizations or companies or individuals.

"An employer would not be responsible for any actions of the employee outside work," Al Hajjar added.

"I understand the need to abolish the sponsorship system," said Mansoor Al Ghamdi, a Saudi businessman. "I know plenty of people who fear coming to Saudi Arabia due to this. The system really gives us a negative reputation internationally and may prevent successful progressive for the Kingdom."

The NSHR also proposed a mandatory insurance scheme to protect the rights of employers and foreign workers. It took four years for the organization to prepare the study in the light of international experiences.

Al Ghamdi also said that the rate of runaway workers will drop if the system will be implemented in a proper and an organized way.

RELATED LINKS:Fair Saudi sponsorship initiatives are welcome

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