Labor ministers from Gulf and Asian countries meeting on November 26 and 27, 2014, should improve labor law protection, reform abusive immigration policies, and increase dialogue with trade unions and nongovernmental groups, 90 human rights organizations and unions said today.
Millions of contract workers from Asia and Africa, including an estimated 2.4 million domestic workers in the Gulf, are subject to a wide range of abuses, including unpaid wages, confiscation of passports, physical abuse, and forced labor.
“Whether it’s the scale of abuse of domestic workers hidden from public view or the shocking death toll among construction workers, the plight of migrants in the Gulf demands urgent and profound reform,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This should include a thorough overhaul of the abusive kafala visa sponsorship system.”
The ministers will meet in the third round of the Abu Dhabi Dialogue, an inter-regional forum on labor migration between Asian countries of origin and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries of destination. Nongovernmental groups participated in the first two rounds but were not invited to this year’s gathering. Labor ministers from the GCC states are to meet separately on November 23 to discuss a draft domestic workers contract and the proposed formation of a cross-GCC body to oversee migrant domestic work.
The kafala system, used to varying extents across the Gulf, restricts most workers from moving to a new job before their contracts end unless they obtain their employer’s consent, trapping many workers in abusive situations. Many migrant workers feel intense financial pressure not only to support their families at home but also to pay off huge debts incurred during recruitment. Poorly monitored labor recruitment agencies, in both the migrants’ countries of origin and in the destination Gulf states, often overcharge migrant workers, deceive them about their working conditions, or fail to assist them if they encounter workplace abuse.