A collective of major international rights and labour groups have launched a fresh call for urgent action to protect migrant workers from abuse in Gulf Arab countries.

A total of 90 organisations issued a statement on Sunday, saying millions of mostly Asian and African workers are facing exploitation and abuses, including unpaid wages, physical violence and forced labour. 

"Whether it is the scale of abuse of domestic workers hidden from public view or the shocking death toll among construction workers, the plight of migrants in the Gulf [region] demands urgent and profound reform," said Rothna Begum, a Middle East researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch.

HRW was one of the signatories of the statement along with other groups, including Amnesty International, the International Trade Union Confederation, and the International Domestic Workers Federation.

Patterns of abuse against domestic workers include unpaid wages, no rest periods, excessive workloads, food deprivation, and confinement in the workplace.

Human Rights Watch

The statement came ahead of a meeting this week of ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] and Asian countries on November 26-27 for the so-called Abu Dhabi Dialogue on labour migration.

About 23 million foreigners, including at least 2.4 million domestic servants, live in the six-nation GCC that includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

Kafala system

GCC countries have come under fire over its controversial Kafala system of sponsorship for migrant workers, which is used to varying extents across the region.

It restricts most workers from moving to a new job before their contracts end unless they obtain their employer's consent, trapping many workers in abusive situations, the statement released on Sunday said.

The rights groups called for comprehensive laws to protect migrant labourers and reforming the kafala system.

A HRW report issued in October and an April report by Amnesty International found "common patterns of abuse against domestic workers in the UAE and Qatar".

The rights organisations reported widespread "unpaid wages, no rest periods, excessive workloads, food deprivation, and confinement in the workplace".

"In several cases, domestic workers reported physical or sexual abuse and had been in situations of forced labour, including trafficking system."

The statement also urged the Gulf states to strengthen its regulation and monitoring of labour recruitment agencies and to provide migrants with access to "justice and support services".

Source: Agencies