KUWAIT CITY (AFP) – Kuwait will scrap the much-criticised sponsor system for foreign labour in February, the Al-Rai newspaper reported Sunday, becoming only the second Gulf country to abolish a practice that has been likened to slavery.
The paper quoted Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Mohammed al-Afasi as saying that the system, locally known as “kafeel,” will be scrapped when a public authority for the recruitment of foreign workers is established in February.
“This will be our gift to foreign workers on the anniversary of Kuwait’s liberation,” from seven months of Iraqi occupation in 1991, the minister said.
Described by human rights bodies as akin to slavery, the sponsor system requires that all foreign workers must be sponsored by Kuwaiti employers, thus keeping them at the mercy of their bosses.
Kuwait will become the second Gulf country to abolish the system after Bahrain, which decided in 2009 to end its longstanding requirement for all foreign workers to be sponsored by a citizen.
Bahrain likened the sponsorship system to modern-day slavery. The practice also has been slammed by international rights groups.
Gulf countries employ armies of foreign workers to run their oil-fueled economies, doing everything from menial jobs to running companies.
Kuwait, home to around 2.3 million expatriates, has in the past few years eased the sponsor system, allowing workers to find a new job without the prior approval of their sponsors after three years of service.
In December, Kuwait’s parliament passed a new labour law that grants better rights and conditions, replacing a 45-year-old law that was criticised as being favourable to employers at the expense of workers.
The legislation provides better annual leave, end of service indemnities and holidays.
It also sets tougher penalties, including jail terms, for businessmen who trade in visas or who recruit expatriate workers and then fail to provide them with jobs, or who fail to pay salaries regularly.
The bill also requires the government to introduce a minimum wage for certain jobs, especially in the lower-paid categories.