Unskilled workers in the Gulf face exploitation - ILO
Expat workers in the Middle East, particularly in the Gulf, are among the most likely group to become victims of human trafficking.
“Tricked and Trapped: Human Trafficking in the Middle East,” a study by the International Labor Organization (ILO), shed light on the problem of mainly unskilled laborers who are lured to the Middle East and fall victim to working like slaves for little or no pay.
According to recent data, the proportion of expat workers in the labor force of the GCC countries ranges from 50 percent in Saudi Arabia to 97 percent in Qatar where all are under the sponsorship system.
Some people consider sponsorship an unfair system, which may incite sponsors to violate the human rights of workers. This has happened, usually to manual workers like maids, drivers, carpenters, barbers and mechanics.
Talal Al-Bakri, head of the social affairs committee at the Shoura Council, said the current sponsorship system couldn’t ensure the rights of both sponsors and workers. He called for a new system that could organize the relation between the two parties and avoid human trafficking practices.
“Saudi Arabia is unique due to its tremendous economic growth, which has led us to have a large number of workers in lower class jobs. We do not deny that there are sponsors who violate the rights of workers. There are also cases of workers violating Saudi rules,” he said.
According to Al-Bakri, some people urged Saudi Arabia to abolish the sponsorship system. “This is impossible due to several reasons,” he said. “The Kingdom has a large land area and there are many expat job seekers. This requires us to have a system to organize relations between the two parties.” Asked about the latest raids aimed at deporting those working for people than their sponsors, he said: “The aim of the raids is good, but we still doubt its impact. I do not think the raids will help in reducing the number of illegal workers, or even to organize the sponsorship process. I also doubt the three-month grace period that the king granted so people could transfer their sponsorship will be of much help.” Beate Andrees, head of the ILO’s special action program to combat forced labor, said it was a challenge to properly put in place safeguards, in both origin and destination countries, which prevent the exploitation and abuse of these workers.
According to the ILO report the lack of an inspection mechanism increased the isolation of domestic workers in private businesses and their mistreatment.
The report proposed empowering labor ministries to oversee the recruitment process, handle complaints by migrants and employers and verify allegations of mistreatment and respond accordingly as a viable alternative to the kafala (sponsorship) system currently in place.
Kamal Abu-Shama, a Saudi lawyer, said: “We have a labor office in the Kingdom where all workers can come to lodge their complaints. The labor office usually follows the rules regardless of who the sponsor or the worker is. But workers fear that they might be deported if they complained to the labor office.” According to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) sessions of the Human Rights Council: • There is need to reform the sponsorship system and better protect domestic workers.
• Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are known to have problems with human trafficking and need a better sponsorship system, said the review.