Kuwait suggests plans to end sponsorship system

Kuwait’s Labour Ministry has submitted three proposals to the government to help put an end to the controversial sponsorship system.

The proposals are based on studies and recommendations prepared by the ministry, the Arab Labour Organisation and the International Labour Organisation, a source from the ministry has said.

“The ministry took into consideration the specifics of the Kuwaiti labour market as well as the recommendations of international organisations on labour and human rights,” the unnamed source told Kuwaiti daily Al Anbaa on Thursday.

The first proposal recommends setting up a government company tasked with hiring employees and labourers. The company will be the sponsor of all foreigners working in Kuwait, both in public and private sectors.

The second suggestion calls for easing the movement of expatriates within the labour market. Under the plan, an employee or labourer will have the right to switch jobs after three years or at the end of his or her public service contract.

The third plan puts an independent manpower authority in charge of all the expatriates in public and private sectors. Under the proposal, an expatriate is given a work permit that allows him or her to work anywhere in Kuwait.

However, the authority will keep the passport of the expatriate as a guarantee for the employer that he or she will not run away or switch jobs, and will hand him or her a special employment card. The expatriate can retrieve the passport every time he presents evidence from his company that he is allowed to travel outside the country.

However, the ministry warned that the third proposal will wade into controversy, especially that international human rights covenants consider that passports are a personal property and keeping them, regardless of the motive, would amount to a violation of personal rights.

Kuwait has pledged to put an end to the harsh sponsorship system in 2011 despite strong opposition from the business community. Bahrain in August 2009 scrapped the system and allowed foreigners to switch jobs more easily.

Majeed Al Alawi, Bahrain’s labour minister, has likened the system to modern-day slavery and spearheaded a drive within the Gulf to do away with the sponsorship system despite the formidable opposition from those who benefited from it. Gulf and international rights groups have repeatedly called for the elimination of the system.