Mideast, Asia reforms ‘fail migrant workers’
Dubai, April 28, 2010
Reforms by Middle Eastern and Asian governments have failed to meet minimum protection measures in addressing abuses against migrant domestic workers and millions remain at risk, a human rights group said on Wednesday.
Migrant workers complain about unpaid wages, excessive working hours, heavy debt burdens from exorbitant recruitment fees, isolation and forced confinement resulting in physical and psychological abuse, US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
It said some governments had improved conditions for migrant workers but reforms had been too slow.
'Despite recent improvements, millions of Asian and African women workers remain at high risk of exploitation and violence, with little hope of redress,' HRW said.
In a report, HRW reviewed workers' conditions in countries including Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Singapore, and Malaysia.
'Several governments have made concrete improvements for migrant domestic workers in the past five years, but in general, reforms have been slow, incremental, and hard-fought,' said Nisha Varia, women's rights researcher at HRW.
Earlier in April, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said Gulf Arab countries must end their sponsorship system for migrant workers that leaves labourers beholden to employers and exposed to potential abuse.
The world's largest oil-exporting region has attracted tens of millions of mostly blue-collar migrants from Asian countries, many of whom work in construction or as domestic maids.
Many workers complain that agencies or employers confiscate their passports, do not pay them regularly or deduct housing or health costs from their pay.
Some Gulf countries such as Bahrain are scrapping the sponsorship, or kafala, system, while others such as Kuwait are overhauling labour laws or introducing a minimum wage to improve the conditions for millions of foreign workers.
However, the world's top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, where expatriate workers comprise 7 million of the 25 million population, has yet to make such reforms.
While the governments of Lebanon, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia said they planned to amend labour laws or draft new legislations, little has come to fruition after years of proposals, HRW said. – Reuters