Saudi’s Labour Reform Initiative eases restrictions on expat workers

KATHMANDU: As of Sunday, foreigners working in the Saudi private sector can switch jobs when their work contracts expire or provided they notify their employers in a timely manner.

The kingdom’s near-abolishment of its 70-year-old kalafa sponsorship system follows similar reforms in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Other countries such as Qatar, Kuwait and Oman continue the practice, under which an employer can unilaterally renew or terminate residency and work status in the country.

Now, foreign workers in Saudi Arabia can move from one employer to another according to specific conditions, and travel without the consent of their sponsor, after requesting “exit and return” permission from Saudi authorities.

There are new contractual terms between employer and employee that will be a reference in any dispute if it needs to be resolved in court.

The amended Saudi system differs from those in Bahrain in the UAE in that it does not provide the migrant workers with their own work permits, rather they still need a “residence permit” connected to an employer, and that if there is a problem not otherwise resolved by authorities, the worker’s exit from Saudi Arabia will be final.

Unless the work contract has expired, there are still several conditions for changing employment in the kingdom, including that the employee be a “professional worker,” have worked for the current employer for at least 12 months, that they have a work contract, and that they adhere to the notice period stipulated in the contract.

They can also change jobs with the approval of the current employer, or if they have not been paid for three months or more.

One of the conditions for issuing a permit to “travel” or “exit and return” is that if the expatriate worker owns a car, he must not have unpaid traffic violations.

The changes, however, do not apply to certain categories of employees: private drivers, home guards, domestic workers, shepherds and gardeners.

Mutlaq al-Enezi, a Saudi economist, told The Media Line, “This new initiative will eliminate the problem of illegal employment that is wide-spread in the kingdom, as there are more than a million illegal workers.

“It will improve the rights of foreign workers in the kingdom, which means improving human rights as well, and this is perhaps the first step to moving toward a much better situation,” Enezi added.

“The Saudi economy will definitely improve. When all workers are registered and documented and have clear contracts, this will definitely raise competitiveness and provide greater opportunity for Saudi citizens. As the foreign worker has these rights and is largely equal to the Saudi worker, it means that employers will hire Saudi employees, thus eliminating a large proportion of unemployment,” he continued.

Fiscal Nepal |
Tuesday March 16, 2021, 11:50:34 AM |

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