Friday, November 16, 2007

Changing Sponsors

One main reason guest workers in Gulf countries are so easily abused is the sponsorship system, though which their legal presence is tied to a specific employer rather than something they have as individuals. This means that any conflict with that employer could lead, not just to unemployment, but to deportation back to desperate economic conditions. An Emirati reform making it easier to change sponsors means nothing:
"The Ministry of Labour has amended rules for sponsorship transfer allowing expatriates to change their jobs without having to spend one year with their original sponsors, a senior official said on Thursday...

"Humaid Bin Deemas, Assistant Undersecretary at the ministry, told Gulf News that earlier an exemption from the minister was needed in order to be able to transfer sponsorship before completing one year.

"'However, since two weeks exemptions are no longer needed but the NOC from the previous sponsor is still a prerequisite and the applicant will have to pay a fee of Dh500 for each month remaining to complete this mandatory period. The procedure could be done at the customer service counter at the ministry and applicants no longer need to approach the minister's office,' said Bin Deemas.

"He (Khalil Khoury of the Works Permit Department) added that the cost of sponsorship transfer depends on the qualification of the concerned employee. For instance, a person with Master's degree would have to pay Dh1,500 for approval while a person with low educational qualification will have to pay Dh 5,000 for the same. The cost of approval of internal work permit to move to another company owned by the same sponsor is Dh500."

First, workers still need permission from their existing sponsor. In addition, as you can see from the last paragraph, the fee structure is ridiculously regressive. It's about three Emirati dirhams to a dollar, so the middle manager with his masters can easily afford the $500, which is probably far less than his monthly rent, but the poor construction worker from Bangladesh who lives in company housing is never going to have the $1600 he needs, nor will the Filipino maids people on the right like to worry about. These fees are in addition to the additional $165 or so for each month remaining of the original year.

These labor policies are disgraceful. This is an area where the United States can and should use our influence to push for reform.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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