Labor Abuse of Pakistani Migrants in Saudi Arabia


Author:Catherine Yu

Department:Pakistan Team


Pakistan is currently acknowledged as a nation that promotes emigration, sending out a significant number of migrant workers. According to the 2019 Annual Analysis of Manpower Export, more than 11.11 million emigrants have been registered by the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment (BE&OE) through its seven regional offices called Protectorate of Emigrants (Muzzammil Basraa, 2019). More than 96 percent of the 11.11 million migrant workers are concentrated in the "Gulf Cooperation Council" (GCC) nations, mainly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Regardless of how many migrant workers from Pakistan find occupation in Saudi Arabia, this does not necessarily imply that they have favourable working conditions. Due to the nature of work being private, many Pakistani migrants work in very poor and unprotected conditions. These conditions include forced labour, verbal, physical, and/or sexual abuse, unpaid wages, forced captivity, amongst many other issues. The purpose of this article is to highlight human rights breaches encountered by Pakistani migrant workers. An overview of the distinct immigration laws implemented in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will be compared, with references to the "Kafala System," a sponsorship system that displays a linkage between foreign employees and local sponsors. The impacts of this system, which authorises unethical control over migrant workers, will then be explored. Background Migration in Pakistan Since the late 1970s, Pakistan has taken a pro-emigration attitude, relying heavily on labour exports for remittances through formal channels - as a means of potentially decreasing internal unemployment and poverty. Labour migrants who travel abroad typically find work largely in the transportation or construction industries as many of these workers are men with lower qualifications. Workers are contracted for a limited period of two to three years, with the potential to expand their contracts or engage in circular migration. Furthermore, due to the increasing numbers of overseas Pakistani workers, The Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development (MOPHRD) came into place. The Ministry set out three key goals, namely the (i) promotion of safe, orderly and regular emigration; (ii) protection and welfare of emigrant workers and their families; and (iii) engagement of diaspora and reintegration of returning migrants (ICMPD, 2020). Migration in Saudi Arabia In the 1950s, Saudi Arabia experienced a great abundance of oil, further adding to the growth of the construction and infrastructure industries. Due to the country's comparatively small population at the time, Saudi Arabia relied on temporary labourers from foreign nations, who could come during periods of booming growth and return home when the economy weakened in order to build the nations infrastructure (Robinson, 2021). The Kafala system was then developed, which gave domestic businesses or individuals the opportunity to become sponsors and hire migrant workers. According to Houtan Homayounpour, head of the Qatar office of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) they would bring in workers from abroad that didnt speak the language, that were not aware of the cultural sensitivities, that came without a social support network (Homayounpour, 2021). Sponsors had to ensure that the expenses of travel, accommodation, safety, and well-being for foreign labourers were met, whether they did it themselves or through employed private recruitment firms. Yet over time because of various changes to legislation, this became a power imbalance between workers and employers, and eventually opened the workers to abuse says Houtan Homayounpour (Homayounpour, 2021). What is happening? The great extent of what is happening in Saudi Arabia can be characterized as a form of modern-day slavery. Pakistani migrants seeking employment in Saudi Arabia acquire these initially promising opportunities through recruitment firms, unaware of the often unethical hiring procedures. According to the ILO (2022), some of these common unethical behaviours include: sponsors who fail to place migrants in employment after receiving payment from them; contract terms and conditions that are not disclosed in advance or are kept secret; and, finally, providing false information regarding a visa category or job position. Furthermore, many workers are considered low-skilled and the only work available to them therefore consists of low-paying occupations. Ultimately, this results in migrant workers being financially strapped after incurring high recruitment fees, and are left in debt, incapable of leaving exploitative situations. Awareness should also be brought to the abuse based on race and gender. According to the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development (MOP&HRD) 2020 reported data, between 1971 and July 2019, 40,807 female workers went abroad for employment. In Saudi Arabia, domestic work employs 35% of the total number of female travellers. Unfortunately, women engaged in domestic service are the most vulnerable to violence, particularly sexual abuse. Because of the Kafala system, many sexually abused female workers are sometimes too reluctant to disclose it to law enforcements for fear of offending their sponsors. This anxiety stems from the Kafala system's implemented policies, if workers so desire to change jobs, terminate their employment, or leave the host country, they must first obtain their sponsors permission. To leave without permission means loss of visa and potentially imprisonment or deportation (Dumoulin, 2021). Additionally, reports of racial abuse towards migrant labourers with darker skin who are of African and South Asian descent have been made. Regardless of whether migrants have professional degrees, sponsors would assign them to low-paying employment due to their racial or ethnic background. During the COVID-19 epidemic in 2020, a photo of a South Asian migrant walking through the halls of the oil corporation "Saudi Aramco", while dressed as a mobile hand sanitizer appeared on social media. This image captures the reality of the dehumanisation and deprivation of basic human rights that many foreign workers in Saudi Arabia are forced to experience. Sponsors assign migrants to degrading professions, preventing them from changing careers because of the Kafala system. What is Being Done? A demand for change was urged after a decade-long pattern of abuse under the Kafala system, which became more pressing during the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. The "Labour Reform Initiative", unveiled in November 2020 by Saudi Arabia's "Ministry of Human Resources," sought to diminish sponsorship's control over foreign migrant workers. The "Labour Reform Initiative" gives migrant employees who are employed in retail and construction the freedom to change their profession without the permission of their employers, yet only after a year of employment or after their employment agreement expires. However, this does not apply to migrant domestic workers, who are excluded from the new reform laws, remaining to be exploited under the Kafala system, and lack adequate labour protection. Conclusion This article has revealed the serious human rights breaches suffered by migrant Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia as a result of the Kafala System. The Kafala system has not only provided a source of profit and increased Saudi Arabia's infrastructure, but it has also created a disparity between sponsored companies and foreign migrant labourers. The sponsors' dominance over foreign workers has resulted in many of the workers being subjected to inhumane living and working conditions, unable to flee due to the fear of detention or deportation. Though Saudi Arabia has attempted to implement labour reforms in order to reduce sponsors' control over their employees, many continue to face obstacles such as threats and delays from sponsors when attempting to change occupations, as well as migrant domestic workers being excluded from the reform laws. The question remains: what will Saudi Arabia do to combat the continuous exploitation of foreign workers?
















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David Marks 3 hours ago

Sending love. My nephews Nick and Anthony Salaber are your teammates, so I know the caliber person you are. Our whole family is sending our best to you and your family.

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Christine Eve 3 hours ago

Sending love. My nephews Nick and Anthony Salaber are your teammates, so I know the caliber person you are. Our whole family is sending our best to you and your family.

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