Saudi Arabia: one of the terrible ten worst countries for workers’ rights
Saudi Arabia employs a staggering 8.3 million migrants. Migrants make up 90 to 95 per cent of the private sector workforce but are excluded from labour law and endure forced labour akin to slavery. Kafala links the migrant’s work permit to the employer’s goodwill and newcomers are not allowed to change jobs or leave the country without written consent of their original boss. The slow legal system means many are stranded without work but without the ability to go home. It’s truly awful.
Approximately 8.3 million migrants are legally employed in Saudi Arabia. They make up 90 to 95% of the private sector workforce. Many are victims of various forms of exploitation in conditions akin to slavery. In many cases migrant workers are abused by the recruitment agencies who promise them far more than they can actually earn in Saudi Arabia.
The kafala (sponsorship) system links the worker’s work permit to the employer’s goodwill. A migrant cannot change employer or leave the country without the written consent of their original employer or guarantor. The system lends itself to abuses such as the confiscation of passports by employers, forced labour, non-payment of wages etc. This sponsorship and the slowness of legal proceedings mean that a migrant who is in dispute with his/her employer is at an impasse: he/she cannot continue to work nor can he/she return home. Some run away despite having their passport confiscated and seek refuge at their embassy.
The Terrible Ten:
At the ILO conference earlier this month, the International Trade Union Confederation launched its 2015 Global Rights Index, detailing the ten worst countries for workers’ rights abuses in the world, and reporting in detail violations in those and many more. Stronger Unions is profiling one of the terrible ten each day.