Announced reforms to its controversial “kafala” or “sponsorship” system of foreign workers’ visa that human rights groups say is a form of indentured servitude.
Under the new rules, foreign workers will no longer need their employer’s permission to change jobs, travel abroad or leave the country permanently. The “Labour Relation Initiative” is slated to come into effect in March 2021, and will benefit the approximately 10 million foreign workers.
Before the pandemic, there were 2.6 million Indian expatriates in the kingdom.
The kafala ties the legality of a worker’s stay in the country to the employer. Human Rights Watch says many employers exploited this control by taking workers’ passports, forcing them to work excessive hours and denying them wages.
This has led to hundreds of thousands of workers fleeing their employers and becoming undocumented, effectively rendering them fugitives.
Human Rights Watch’s Rothna Begum described the changes to the Saudi law as “significant steps that could improve migrant workers’ conditions,” but cautioned it does not appear to be a full abolition of the kafala system.
“Migrant workers still need an employer to sponsor them to come to the country and employers may still have control over their residency status,” said Begum.
Qatar, which is preparing to host the next FIFA World Cup in 2022, has recently introduced similar changes to its labour laws.
The reforms are part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 project — a pet project of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — to steer the economy away from oil and towards tourism, services and technology.( TOI )
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