UN advises GCC to reconsider worker sponsorship system
KUWAIT CITY // The UN resident coordinator said yesterday it was "necessary to reconsider" the sponsorship system in the Gulf, saying he hoped a meeting of regional labour officials will lead GCC countries to meet international standards.
Adam Adelmoula was speaking at a meeting of labour officials from across the GCC held to discuss changing the system of sponsoring foreign workers, known locally as kafeel.
Mr Adelmoula said the workshop was looking to push GCC countries towards meeting international standards of employing migrants. "We hope it will contribute to reducing some of the negative aspects of the sponsorship system," he said.
Iman Ereiqat, the head of the Kuwaiti office for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which backed the event in conjunction with Kuwait's ministry of social affairs and labour, said the aim of the workshop was "to provide alternatives" for the sponsorship system.
Sponsorship has been criticised by international human-rights organisations and foreign governments. The US Department of State's Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 said: "some unscrupulous Kuwaiti sponsors and recruiting agents prey off some of these migrants by charging them high amounts for residency visas, which foreign workers are supposed to receive for free".
The report said abuse such as exorbitant fees from recruiters in their home countries can lead to forced labour. The perceived poor treatment of migrants has contributed to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia being ranked on the US Department of State's blacklist of human-trafficking offenders along with impoverished nations such as Sudan, Zimbabwe and Myanmar.
Moves to end sponsorship gathered momentum after Bahrain became the first country in the Gulf to scrap the system in 2009. In December last year, the UAE's Minister of Labour pledged to reform the kafeel, although he ruled out abolishing it altogether. In November, Qatar's prime minister said changes had already been made to the system and the council of ministers was "seriously studying" abolishing it.
In September, a local newspaper reported that Kuwait's minister of social affairs and labour said the system there would be scrapped by February as "our gift to expatriates on the occasion of Liberation Day". The statement was later contradicted by other ministry officials.
Yesterday, Mansour al Mansour, Kuwait's assistant undersecretary for labour affairs, confirmed the ministry had not yet decided to abolish the system. He said it was waiting for the establishment of a manpower authority in February to study the proposal.
The sheer number of foreign workers - estimated at nearly 70 per cent of Kuwait's population - makes it difficult for the government to assume the responsibility of sponsorship from the private sector, Mohammed al Kandari, Kuwait's undersecretary of the ministry of social affairs and labour said.
Abdul Rahman Alghanim, the general secretary and head of the migrant workers office at the Kuwait Trade Union Federation, who presented his organisation's ideas, said employment contracts should serve as sponsorship for foreigners, and they should have an allotted period of time to find a new job if they quit.
Updated: January 11, 2011 04:00 AM