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Get used to that ball and chain

Get used to that ball and chain

The UAE has no plans to follow in Bahrain’s footsteps and change its existing sponsorship system, according to a Ministry of Labor official. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia announces reforms to its sponsorship system.

May 13, 2009 12:35 by

A senior figure at the UAE Ministry of Labor has said that the country does not intend to follow Bahrain’s lead by scrapping the sponsorship system for expatriate workers, reported The National. Bahrain announced on May 5 that it plans to abolish the controversial sponsorship system used by all Gulf states, giving foreign workers the freedom to change jobs without the approval of their former employers.

Ever since the announcement by Majeed Alawi, Bahrain’s labor minister, other GCC countries have been the focus of speculation  as to who else would do away with the system.

A senior official who is involved in policy creation at the Ministry of Labor in Abu Dhabi was quoted as saying, “There is no plan or talk of applying that here at the moment as there are enough initiatives to work through. If it is good in Bahrain it does not mean it would be good for us.”

The initiatives are adjusting existing labor laws to help expatriates who have been made redundant because of the current financial crisis, but want to stay in the country and continue looking for work. A draft legislation to do this proposes a visa extension beyond the current one month period allowed. The law, however, is yet to be passed.

Meanwhile, Arab News reported on Wednesday that the Labor Ministry in Saudi Arabia – following a five-year study into the current sponsorship system – plans to have recruitment firms sponsor foreign workers with minimum qualifications such as construction workers, drivers, housemaids and nurses to facilitate movement of labor within the country. No timeline is said to have been set for when the changes will be implemented and professionals will not be affected by the changes in the law, the newspaper said.

According to Khalid al Khazraji, the former deputy minister of Labor, “what we have in place here is good enough and versatile enough; the ministry can work within its mandate”

The current sponsorship system, which has come under fire from various human rights groups, and likened to slavery by Alawi, has been criticized for giving employers too much power over workers and leaving employees open to abuse and exploitation.

The sponsorship agreement serves as the legal basis for residency and employment for more than 4.1 million expatriates in the UAE. Under it, an expatriate cannot change jobs without permission from his or her sponsor, and can face a six month ban upon cancellation of a visa.

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