By JEDDAH: DIANA AL-JASSEM, ARAB NEWS STAFF
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.