2012 Arab News
2012-03-21 Sponsorship system open to widespread abuse
Published: Mar 21, 2012 01:54 Updated: Mar 21, 2012 01:54

The Saudi system of sponsorship, or kafala, is still a topic of heated debate as the unjustified extortion of expatriate employees by their sponsors continues.

The sponsorship system supposedly organizes work contracts, salary, visas, vacation and repatriation. However, there have been many instances of sponsors exploiting and mistreating workers under them by various means. A sponsor might take an employees passport and iqama (residence permit) or refuse to pay the wage on time. Instead of providing jobs to expatriate workers under them, some sponsors ask them to find work elsewhere and force them to pay a monthly fee. All these are unlawful in Saudi Arabia, but expatriate workers do not complain to the authorities fearing further mistreatment and deportation.

Statistics issued by the Ministry of Labor confirm that about 9 million expatriates currently live and work in the Kingdom. Many of those expatriates are victims of extortion by their sponsors. The National Society for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia issued a study to organize the rights of sponsors and workers. The study was issued two years ago but its recommendations remain unimplemented, said Mufleh Al-Qahtani, the NSHR chairman. Changing the word kafala to work contract has been applied, but that doesnt change the way sponsors treat their employees, he said. We want to create a governmental body or organization that would manage all the conditions and affairs of expatriates. It would cancel the traditional role of the sponsor and ensure all rights are respected.

Al-Qahtani added that there are several suggested solutions for the problems surrounding the transfer of sponsorship. This has become a big problem and most of complaints the NSHR receives from expatriates are on this subject. Sponsors use the power of sponsorship to accept or reject a sponsorship transfer. Some even deprive their workers of their salary and rights, before they will transfer their sponsorship, he said.
Ibrahim Natto, Saudi author, poet and former dean of Student Affairs at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, does not approve of the sponsorship system. It is like a prison that limits a workers freedom, says Natto. This system allowed many Saudis to extort expatriate employees. Society has heard many stories of expatriate workers who find themselves forced to quit and return to their country without getting their rights. The amount of stories increases daily because there is no law to protect workers. In some cases, workers found themselves in prison for crimes they didnt commit, he said.

Natto added, Most employees escape when they receive bad treatment and dont get their rights. No worker in the world would leave his job if the terms of his contract were perfect. For example, most Saudis signed contracts with employees to define both their rights. After the expatriate arrived in the Kingdom, the sponsor did not keep his end of the bargain. According to Natto, Saudi law protects employees rights only in contracts. When it comes to court, the employee almost always turns out to be the big loser.

Natto does not encourage the transfer of sponsorships to a special government organization. I do not believe a government organization will succeed in ensuring the rights of an expatriate employee, he said. According to Natto, sponsors should have a sense of humanity and a fear of God. Such feelings would make the relationship more safe and fruitful, then the worker would have no reason to escape. I hope officials will revise our system and try to make it more fair, he said.

2012 Arab News
©opyright Neys4U 2004-2024