Saudi Arabia has allowed foreign workers living in the country to switch jobs without their employers’ permission as the long-awaited labour reforms in the Gulf region’s most populous country went into effect from Sunday.
In November last year, the country’s ministry of human resources and social development announced plans to amend the Kafala system under which workers are tied to a single employer who alone can renew or terminate their residency and work status in the country, reports Al Jazeera.
Rights groups have said the system makes workers, particularly those working in construction and doing domestic work, vulnerable to abuse by their employers.
Reports of employers confiscating workers’ passports, forcing them to work excessive hours and denying them wages are not uncommon.
Under the kingdom’s revised system, migrant workers can switch jobs upon the expiry of their work contract.
Workers will also be able to transfer jobs during the validity of their contract provided they notify their employers within a set timeframe.
Workers will also be exempt from “exit authorisation”, allowing them to travel indefinitely without the permission of their employers.
Provisions are also being made for workers who are not offered work contracts or have not been paid their salaries, authorities said.
Several Gulf countries have, in recent years, enacted reforms to their Kafala system, once prevalent across the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council.
Critics however say abuses will continue as long as work and residence visas are tied to a “Kafeel” or sponsor.