x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

FNC to debate sponsorship system

Abolition of UAE's sponsorship system - favoured by some council members - has been ruled out, but reforms could make resigning easier for expatriates.

ABU DHABI // An FNC meeting tomorrow will feature discussions over the federal budget, new rules on inter-emirate travel, agricultural practices and labour issues such as the sponsorship system.

Saqr Ghobash, the Minister of Labour, will appear before the council to explain how the government plans to reform sponsorships.

The UAE's current sponsorship or "kafil" system dictates that foreign workers or professionals must have a local sponsor if they plan to work or open a business in the UAE.

However, Yousef al Neaimi, a member of the FNC from Ras al Khaimah, believes the country would be better off without a sponsorship system.

"The issue is making the rounds in the media and particularly in the Gulf on a regional level," said Mr al Neaimi.

Bahrain passed legislation in May to abolish its system and Kuwait is studying a proposal to do the same.

Mr al Neaimi said the FNC favoured reforms to bring the country in line with the international community, warning that labour practices perceived as unfair could tarnish the UAE's reputation.

"The country's reputation for us is above all else. Labour, and what gets written about us by rights activists and what gets written by the International Labour Organisation must all be placed under consideration," he said.

"Labour problems, wages, strikes by workers, and all these things that are happening recently, we don't want them to be repeated," he added.

Reform of the system needed to fix these issues, he said. He favoured a system where there were no longer a "sponsor and a sponsored".

The most important issue was to preserve the rights of workers, said Mr al Neaimi.

"The UAE is an advanced nation, it is not a Third World nation, so our system should be based on international standards," he said. "We can't be advanced in development but behind in labour programmes."

In a letter this month in response to a question by Mr al Neaimi, Mr Ghobash ruled out the possibility of abandoning sponsorship but pledged to reform the system.

Chief among these reforms is making it easier for people to get new jobs if they resign. Some companies have previously taken advantage of the sponsorship system to prevent resigning expatriate employees from working in the country for months.

The FNC will also debate a federal law that could have far-reaching implications on how goods cross the country.

Under the law, vehicles would need licences to transport goods across the country and would be restricted to certain highways, with regulations also imposed on the transport of passengers and which thoroughfares they can use.

The amount of goods such vehicles were allowed to carry would also be regulated.

Supporters of the law say it would improve safety on the country's highways.

"It would hopefully help in reducing the number of traffic accidents," said Hamad al Midfa, a member of the committee that analysed the law.

Also on the agenda is a discussion on the federal budget and a question to the Minister of Environment and Water on unfair agricultural practices.