Kafala System

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Mar 14, 2022, 10:26

The Kafala system refers to the system of employing migrant workers on a contractual basis in the Arab regions, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UA, Jordan, and Lebanon. The employers are known as "Kafeel." The migrant workers who agree to fall under this system become lawfully tied to their employers, known as Kafeels. The overwhelming majority of the immigrant workers are women from Africa and South Asia.

The Kafala system is sometimes referred to as modern-day slavery because foreign workers who choose to work under a Kafeel cannot even switch jobs without the consent of their employers. They are even forced to work long hours with minimum salaries as directed by the Kafeels. The workers are even required to get approval from their employers to enter or move out of the country.

Negative Impacts of Kafala System

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has already released a report stating that the Kafala system is a cloaked kind of slavery that supports autocracy over workers and violates human rights. It has been alleged that the Kafeel typically take migrant labourers' passports and other travel documents when they are working in foreign countries.

Officials from the Gulf Cooperation Council have been spotted using terms like 'Guest Employees' and 'Expatriate Manpower' to characterise these foreign workers. It reaffirms the fact that, despite providing services for years, they are not regarded as permanent and resident labourers. As a result, these workers are unable to get citizenship or receive other benefits from the government.

Benefits of Kafala System

It can seem absurd, but there are some beneficial aspects of the Kafala System too, as mentioned below:

  • The rate of employment generation in several areas, such as agriculture, hospitality, oil and gas, has been shown to have surged. The majority of migrant employees work in domestic and construction settings.
  • According to a 2017 estimate, the Kafala system has channelled massive capital inflows of about 124 billion US dollars to migrant workers and their families.

The practice of torturing foreign employees under the guise of the Kafala system has already been reduced. The governments of Arab states have taken a number of steps to change the law governing migrant workers. This has improved the workers' circumstances by ensuring their health and safety at work. Reforms to the Kafala System began in 2009. One of the few countries that cater to long-term and next-generation migrants is Saudi Arabia. Immigrant employees who are highly competent university level professionals, believe in Islamic practice and are fluent in writing and speaking Arabic can apply for citizenship in this country. They must also meet the condition of having lived in the country for at least ten years. Qatar has also fixed a minimum wage of 750 riyals for the employees working under the kafala system. ILO has even an office in this country supervising the condition of the workers and promoting a better future for them.

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FAQs on Kafala System

Q.1. How did the Kafala System come into action?

During the discovery of oil in the 1950s, the Arab regions experienced an economic boom. This was the time when it could attract a large number of labourers from all over the world who were willing to work for low wages.

Q.2. Why is the Kafala system not acceptable?

The Kafala system is a prime illustration of despotism because it fosters undemocratic exploitation of migrant labourers in Arab states. Women from Africa and South Asia account for the vast majority of the labourers. The labourers are not covered by Lebanese labour laws. They are mistreated and harassed by receiving little wages and being forced to work long hours.

Q.3. How many migrant labourers are estimated to be employed under the Kafala system?

According to data published by the Lebanon Labour Ministry, the number of migrant workers in Lebanon is believed to be around 250,000.

Q.4. Which country took the initiative to abolish the kafala system?

The Qatari government took the initiative to scrap the Kafala system by offering workers in the country an updated labour code. The new labour law gave foreign workers more substantial benefits. It was simple for them to change occupations and relocate outside of the country.