Saudi labor sponsorship system violates human rights, says group

According to the report, about 67.8 percent of labor issues the society had dealt with were complaints by expatriates against their Saudi kafeels (sponsors)

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The kafala (sponsorship) system that the Labor Ministry is using for the recruitment and employment of expatriates is replete with human rights violations, the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) has said in a report.

“There are 13 loopholes in the system that were behind the complaints the society has been receiving since its establishment in 2004,” the society told Makkah newspaper.

According to the report, about 67.8 percent of labor issues the society had dealt with were complaints by expatriates against their Saudi kafeels (sponsors).

The society said the various labor issues it was notified about during 2014 constituted about 6 percent of all the cases it had considered.

The society listed the following violations as a result of the kafala system:

•Kafeels keeping workers’ passports until they are about to go out on exit/re-entry visa. In this case, the kafeel will exchange the passport with the residence (iqama) card. This is an illegal measure that the kafeel is using to prevent the worker from traveling or escaping, said the NSHR.

•Kafeels making workers do jobs other than the ones they were originally recruited to carry out.

•Physical and verbal violence by some kafeels against their workers in addition to maltreatment.

•Asking the expatriates to pay monthly or annual fees to the kafeels without any justification.

•Preventing workers from exercising some of their civil rights such as marriage or visiting relatives or friends without the approval of the kafeels. Some kafeels have misused this power given to them under the system.

•Some clauses in the system are violating the regulations preventing human trafficking.

•A number of kafeels are wasting the time of some government departments with routine inquiries related to visa issuance, document authentication, approvals and informing them about huroob (runaway workers) cases.

•The spread of the phenomenon of work visa traders. Some Saudis recruit foreign manpower only to trade in them and make more money because they have no jobs for them.

•Non-payment or delaying of salaries, which is a gross violation of labor laws.

•Not giving the workers copies of their work contracts so they know their rights and duties. This is also against labor laws.

•The system gives the kafeels expanded rights and privileges that they may abuse. This is against Islamic teachings that prevent injustices to others and their persecution, said the society.

•Labor offices are delaying consideration of complaints, causing harm to workers and their dependents. Subsequently, expatriates will remain without any source of income and will be illegally staying in the country because they have no renewed iqamas. “This will subject them to punishment by the Interior Ministry.

•Some kafeels go around the system by releasing their workers to work for other employers.

The report also said some kafeels and employers are complaining without justification about the behavior of their sponsored expatriates including unethical conduct, theft, huroob attempts and slackness in performing their duties.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on May 18, 2015.

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