Gulf countries must work together to amend kafala to improve worker rights and address international criticism that there is apathy on the issue, an academic at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar has said, as reported by the National.
During a recent address, Zahra Babar, the assistant director of research at the Centre for International and Regional Studies, pointed out some ways that countries have already successfully modified the sponsorship system, which governs how expats work in the Gulf, and suggested other areas for improvement.
For example, the mobility law, which Bahrain implemented in 2009, allows workers there to change employers without requiring the consent of their sponsor.
“The law frees them up and they no longer risk deportation and cancellation of their visas,” Babar said.
Also in 2009, the UAE implemented a wage protection system (WFS) to address the problem of delayed and unpaid wages. Under WFS, employers must pay workers’ salaries through an electronic transfer system, which creates a direct link between the Ministry of Labor, the Central Bank and the employer.
While these policies go a long way in easing the migration of expats to Gulf countries, there is still work to be done in the area of women’s rights and family unification, Babar said:
“Migration policies are gender blind right now. There should be specific policies that are geared on supporting women. Research has focused exclusively on domestic workers and there has been little awareness of other women who are contributing to the economy.”
…”The family is a key social unit and important to everybody who lives in the Gulf,” she said. “Imposing a certain policy which limits migrants rights to be with their spouses and dependent children will lead to a negative impact on the social and cultural fabric of the region.”
However, one of the biggest sticking points with expats, the exit permit system that prohibits employees from leaving the country without the permission of their employers, does not appear to have been addressed.