Labour ministers from Gulf and Asian countries meeting later this week have been urged to improve labour law protection, reform abusive immigration policies, and increase dialogue with trade unions and non-governmental groups.
A total of 90 human rights organisations and unions have issued a joint statement calling for action to protect domestic workers in the Gulf region.
The statement said 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 labour.
The ministers will meet on November 26-27 in the third round of the Abu Dhabi Dialogue, an inter-regional forum on labour migration between Asian countries of origin and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries of destination.
The statement by the rights groups said 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,” it said.
It added: “Poorly monitored labour 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.”