Saudi labor reforms start March 2021
Saudi Arabia’s Labor Relation Initiative, which eases contractual restrictions on foreign workers, including Filipinos, and allows them to change jobs or leave the country without their employers’ permission, will take effect in March 2021.
“This will allow foreign workers the right to change jobs by transferring their sponsorship from one employer to another, leave and reenter the country and secure final exit visas without the consent of their employer, which [have] long been required under Saudi’s kafala or sponsorship system,” the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement on Thursday as it welcomed the move.
The Philippines has consistently spoken against the kafala system in the United Nations and at every possible international forum, according to Foreign Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in the Philippines called the Saudi government’s initiative a “game changer” in terms of worker protection.
“Kafala has been used to abuse too many OFWs (overseas Filipino workers),” IOM Philippines chief of mission Kristin Dadey said in a tweet.
Dadey congratulated the DFA for working hard to effect a change in the labor policy of Saudi Arabia even as she called on other countries in the Middle East to follow its “bold move.”
The kafala system is a mechanism in the Gulf countries used to monitor migrant workers (usually unskilled workers, i.e. household service workers, construction workers, service industry workers, etc.) through a sponsor, usually the employer, who is responsible for their immigration status and visa. It has been likened by human rights groups to “modern-day slavery.”
Under the system, workers cannot leave their employers or transfer to other jobs, despite abuse or maltreatment, without the consent of the latter. Critics said that workers were treated like their employers’ property.
Saudi Arabia hosts the biggest number of migrant workers in the Middle East.
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