Foreign workers in Saudi Arabia are now able to switch jobs without their employers’ permission after the long-awaited labour reforms in the Gulf region’s most populous country went into effect.
In November last year, the country’s ministry of human resources and social development announced plans to amend the Kafala system under which workers are tied to a single employer who alone can renew or terminate their residency and work status in the country.
Rights groups have said the system makes workers, particularly those working in construction and doing domestic work, vulnerable to abuse by their employers.
Reports of employers confiscating workers’ passports, forcing them to work excessive hours and denying them wages are not uncommon.
Saudi claims today that it has abolished kafala, but colossal gaps remain. The reforms exclude 4 mill workers on short-term visas; migrant workers still need MHRSD approval for exit/entry; and migrant workers remain vulnerable to fake absconsion charges by employers. @EquidemOrg https://t.co/mrLfGwu0yy
— Namrata Raju (@namrataraju) March 14, 2021
Under the kingdom’s revised system, migrant workers can switch jobs upon the expiry of their work contract.
Workers will also be able to transfer jobs during the validity of their contract provided they notify their employers within a set timeframe.
Workers will also be exempt from “exit authorisation”, allowing them to travel indefinitely without the permission of their employers.
The reform does not abolish the exit permit altogether, workers must still submit a request to MHRSD to exit the Kingdom. The MHRSD will, in turn, notify the employer electronically of their workers’ departure. It is to be seen if/how employers can hinder this process.
— Migrant Rights (@MigrantRights) March 13, 2021
Provisions are also being made for workers who are not offered work contracts or have not been paid their salaries, authorities said.
Several Gulf countries have, in recent years, enacted reforms to their Kafala system, once prevalent across the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council.
Critics however say abuses will continue as long as work and residence visas are tied to a “Kafeel” or sponsor.