A church group in Manila welcomed the abolition of the so-called kafala system in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, describing the move as a “positive step for the protection of Filipino migrant workers.”
The kafala system requires migrant workers to have a sponsor in the host country before a visa and worker’s permit can be issued.
Human rights groups said the system generally binds a worker to one employer, leaving workers vulnerable to exploitation.
“We hope that this will set precedent to other countries in the Gulf region that implemented the same,” said Reverend Marie Sol Villalon of the Churches Witnessing With Migrants – Philippines.
Among the countries that implement the kafala system are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Lebanon.
In March, Saudi Arabia announced that it would allow foreign workers to switch jobs without their employers’ permission.
Under the kingdom’s revised system, migrant workers can switch jobs upon the expiry of their work contract.
Workers will also be able to transfer jobs during the validity of their contract provided they notify their employers within a set timeframe.
Workers will also be exempt from “exit authorization,” allowing them to travel indefinitely without the permission of their employers.
Provisions are also being made for workers who are not offered work contracts or have not been paid their salaries, authorities said.
Villalon said, who is coordinator of the Anti-Human Trafficking and Migrant Ministry of the United Methodist Church in Manila, called on the Saudi government to extend the coverage to domestic workers, “who bear the brunt of the kafala system.”
She said the system has brought the discrimination of household workers in a “more horrific and grim state.”
“In essence, this system has defined the relationship of domestic workers with their employer,” said Villalon.
Saudi Arabia is currently the largest hirer of overseas Filipino workers and has the largest Filipino population in the Middle East.
Filipinos make up the fourth-largest group of foreigners in Saudi Arabia and are the second-largest source of remittances to the Philippines.