Kuwait is considering scrapping the sponsorship system in tune with major labour reforms that are being undertaken in the Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia.

Kuwait daily Kuwait Times is reporting that the government is soon expected to form the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour (MSAL), an organisation that would become the focal point for steering labour affairs in the private sector in the oil-rich nation. The new body’s responsibilities would include the recruitment of expatriate workers and managing their relationship with their employers.

The proposed establishment of the MSAL implies that curtains are being drawn on the controversial sponsorship system, widely recognised as the prime cause for human rights abuses among migrant workers. “The sponsorship system will be replaced with an alternative system that allows the MSAL to be responsible for expatriate labour forces,” the newspaper quoted a local media report as saying.

The daily pointed out that the formation of the MSAL, which the parliament has cleared, follows the enforcement of the private sector labour law passed in 2010.

The pressure in image conscious Kuwait to conform to “international standards” is also behind the move to regulate the migrant workforce in a more transparent manner. Consequently, outdated terminology, with pejorative references to an expat workforce is also being amended. The term “sponsor” is being changed to “employer,” and the usage of “expatriate labour” will be replaced by the more value neutral term “foreign workers”.

The new arrangement could also deliver a mortal blow to visa trafficking, where sponsors running fake companies or firms which are not in need of employees sell their visas to foreign workers. Once the payment is made, these workers then take up unlawful low paid jobs elsewhere, usually in the informal sector, and are prone to severe harassment. International human rights organisations have repeatedly held responsible the loopholes in the flawed sponsorship or “kafala” system for rights abuses that migrant workers suffer.

Analysts point out that Kuwait has decided to regulate labour flows on account of three factors: the drop in the number of jobs in the blue collar category because of the decline in construction activity, the need to open up more employment opportunities for the local population, and the requirement of mounting greater surveillance in order to prevent an “Arab Spring” type situation from developing.

Earlier, Kuwait’s Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Thekra Al-Rashidi had announced a plan to deport 100,000 illegally residing foreigners in order to reduce the country’s expatriate population by a million in 10 years.

Saudi Arabia has also accelerated the drive to provide more jobs to its own nationals, by enacting the “Nitaqat system,” a mechanism that makes it mandatory for companies to employ at least 10 per cent locals in their workforce. The move has thrown out of jobs a large number of foreign workers, including Indian nationals, especially those who do not have a record of residence visas. But the Saudi daily Arab News is reporting that nearly 5,000 Indians in the Kingdom have found new jobs following an initiative by the Indian consulate in Jeddah.

The daily quoted the Indian consul general Faiz Ahmed Kidwai as saying that the consulate has opened up its premises for interviews by potential employers with displaced employees who are allowed to shift jobs, in case they possess adequate documentation. The consulate is working against a July 3 deadline when the three-month grace period for employees to either shift to new jobs or to leave the country expires.

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