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Migrant Workers in the Arab World A Reform Agenda.

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Presentation on theme: "Migrant Workers in the Arab World A Reform Agenda."— Presentation transcript:

1 Migrant Workers in the Arab World A Reform Agenda

2 Populations of migrant workers in Gulf Country Total Population Migrant Worker Population Approximate Percentage of Migrant Workers to Total Workforce Qatar1.95 million1.2 million94% UAE7 million2.7 million95% Bahrain1.3 million458,00077% Saudi26 million9 millionOver 50% Oman3 million94,00086% Kuwait2.6 million660,000 81%

3 Migrant workers Migrant workers occupy every job, across the education and skills spectrum: – White collar, blue collar, and unskilled workers. Vast majority have low paid, unskilled jobs: – housemaids and construction workers. Unskilled and blue collar workers predominantly come from South Asia: – Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. Racial and ethnic hierarchy: – Westerns and highly educated Arabs at the top; Filipinos and Eastern Europeans in a second tier; South Asians in a third tier; and African migrants, almost exclusively women working as domestics, in the bottom tier.

4 No matter how many years in country, only temporary worker visas, tied labor contracts, typically of two years duration. Deliberate policy to avoid granting residency rights due to overwhelming that they will lead to demands for citizenship, political rights, and representation. Given overwhelming numbers, seen as a threat to the very existence and cultural identity of many countries Migrant workers

5 The Triangle of Oppression Creates circumstances of forced labor: – the kafala/sponsorship system, – the payment of steep recruitment fees, – and the confiscation of passports,

6 The Kafala/Sponsorship system Exists in every labor-importing country in the region, except Bahrain, which has just abolished it. Grants an employer the status of “sponsor”, allowing him to obtain a visa and work permit for a sponsored employee, for the duration of the labor contract. Workers barred from changing jobs without the consent of their employer. Even if an employer abuses a worker, he is not free to quit without judicial approval (virtually never granted). Worker who quits or “flees” his job subject to immediate deportation: visa is canceled and can be arrested and deported at any time. A worker is “tied” to his employer.

7 Saadiyat Island

8 Confiscation of Passports Near universal practice of passport confiscation: – confiscate, as “insurance” against a worker running away or finding another employer Employers pay visa fees and travel costs, so need to protect an employer’s “investment” to be. Ostensibly illegal, but never enforced. Illegal under international law and labor laws. Effectively means a worker can’t leave.

9 Saadiyat Island

10 Recruiting fees – the financial trap Recruiters essential to finding and mobilizing workers and someone has to pay them. Costs are supposed to be paid by employers, but they’re not. Workers are paying between $2000 and $4000 in recruiting fees. Workers borrow money, mortgage family land, to pay fees. Workers often spend the first 2-3 years of their wages repaying recruiting fees.

11 Saadiyat Island

12 Create incentives for abuse Worker is stuck, and employer knows it: Regular nonpayment of wages A “bait and switch” where workers would agree to a particular job, but find themselves in a worse one. Extremely long working hours with no rest periods; Employment even during the hottest temperatures, Deplorable housing conditions, poor sanitary and eating facilities, long distances from work sites. A highly unregulated health and safety environment, with no regular inspection or enforcement of labor codes, and shockingly high figures of construction worker deaths.

13 Saadiyat Island

14 Lack of Remedies Workers can’t go on strike, or form a union, or bargain collectively, and if they do, they are jailed and immediately deported. Courts are not open on worker’s day off, and operate only in Arabic; lawyers cost money; cases can drag on for months. Employers can immediately terminate an employer who complains or files suit, subjecting him to immediate deportation. Employment contracts are only “official” in Arabic; foreign language signed version have no standing.

15 Saadiyat Island

16 Migrant Domestic Workers Special Problems: Biggest problem, beyond unpaid wages, were the physical conditions of their employment. Forced to work 18 hour days, with no rest periods and no real day off. Confined to the household, with no permission to leave the house, even on the “day off”. Outside communications severely limited – phone use monitored. Typically no private room; many sleep on mat in kitchen or living room, exposing them to sexual abuse. Punishments for perceived infractions, such as deprivation of food, beatings, verbal abuse.

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20 “Cultural” problem Maid is “family,” and not seen as an employee with labor rights: – reinforced by the law because excluded from labor laws. – terms of employment, including vacation, days off, overtime, etc., left for private negotiation. – Promised reforms, some positive steps.

21 Recommended Government Reforms Abolish sponsorship system; replace it with a government regulated system that allows workers to choose employers. Enforce laws to require employers to pay recruiting fees, and ban the confiscation of passports; require employers to reimburse workers found to have paid recruiting fees. Enforce laws that require timely payment of wages and standard benefits, like overtime and days off, for workers, and include investigation, prosecution, and real punishment for offenders. Enforce laws that require payment of wages and standard benefits, and investigate, prosecute, and punish offenders. Ensure inspection of work sites, basic housing standards, rules regarding health and safety conditions. For migrant domestic workers, pass laws that regulate the work life, either in existing labor law, or a separate labor law.

22 Reform advances Bahrain abolished sponsorship system; Kuwait and Qatar have also promise to do so. All MENA countries voted in favor of the new international convention on migrant domestic workers, which is the first international legal instrument formally establishing legal protections for houseworkers, including rest hours, overtime, days off, and humane and dignified working environments. Lebanon and Kuwait have drafted migrant domestic worker laws on their own. UAE passed new federal housing laws and a new recruiting law -- at least reflect real awareness of the problems.

23 Private sector commitments Public pledges to respect worker rights, including basic work conditions, according to international labor standards. Reimbursement of workers found to have paid recruiting fees, ensuring no passport. Confiscation; penalizing abusive contractors. Independent third-party monitors to verify labor conditions.

24 Hearts and Minds Need to generate real understanding among employers “Put Yourself in Her Shoes”, depicting Jordanian, Kuwaiti and Lebanese women, with their distinctive styles, in housemaid costumes. talk shows, advertising, media, and women’s organizations to generate a real discussion

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26 Kuwait


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