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Sponsorship Rules for Foreign Workers to be Eased in the UAE

UAE : 19 December 2010

The controversial sponsorship system in the UAE has been loosened, allowing foreign workers to switch employers.

The Ministry of Labour stated that employees whose contract has expired can then apply for another work permit and move to new employer with no six month waiting period.  The worker also does not need the consent of their sponsor.

These new laws will come into force in January and overrule the existing formal sponsorship transfers that apply to expat workers.  The ministry made a public statement to WAM.

The new rules will only apply in situations where two participants (employee and employer) have cordially ended their working relationship and where the worker has been employed there for two years or more.

In certain cases if the employer  fail to honour the legal obligations of the contract or terminate the contract early, it will allow the employee to freely find other work in the UAE.

Millions of foreign workers are employed in the Gulf Arab state, a majority of which are Asian, and are under the sponsorship system that is constantly criticized by global human rights groups comparing it to slavery systems.

The sponsorship system has been faulted for many cases of abuse.  In it the foreign workers need to have sponsors, most often local national residents, who then hang onto the worker’s passports and block them from changing employment.

Back in August 2009 Bahrain abolished their sponsorship system, and Kuwait has claimed they will also do so in February.

The ILO (International Labour Organization) put pressure on many Gulf nations to institute protection for the millions of foreign workers through sponsorship reforms and the introduction of a minimum wage.

The ILO put forth a minimum monthly wage of $215 or 60 dinars for Kuwait workers.  It was also suggested that foreign employees be able to come together in organized groups aimed to redress violations to worker rights.

In Kuwait the immigration laws allow criminal charges if workers leave their positions.  In Qatar and Saudi Arabia the employees must have permission from their employers to get exit visas allowing them to cross the border.

It is estimated by the ILO that 15 million foreign workers are living within the six Gulf Arab nations and constitute around 40 percent of the overall population.

The foreign population is larger than the national population in all six states with the exception of Saudi Arabia.  In the UAE and Qatar foreign workers make up 90 percent of the population as stated by the ILO.

Paul Holdsworth, Staff Writer, Gulf Jobs Market News
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