Egyptians sigh with relief after sponsorship in KSA abolished

Legalised slavery and escaping from the oppression of the homeland to the humiliation of alienation… This is how Egyptian workers in the Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia in particular describe the sponsorship system that has been going on for decades.

Egyptians in Saudi Arabia, regardless of their professions, especially those working in handicrafts, suffer from this system, as the worker or employee becomes under the command of his sponsor and cannot make his own decision about moving from one work place to another or back home without his sponsor’s approval. The sponsorship system has faced fierce criticism for decades by Western international human rights organisations, as the worker becomes almost a prisoner if he disagrees with the sponsor for any reason. After years of Egyptians suffering from this system in terms of recruitment and work in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, a glimmer of hope appeared to them to abolish the method of codified slavery, as they describe it.

The Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development announced the initiative’s launch to improve the contractual relationship, one of the Kingdom’s National Transformation Programme initiatives. The initiative includes some policies and controls, including adopting a labour contract system between an employer and a migrant worker to replace the sponsorship system which has been in place for 72 years. The initiative to improve the contractual relationship will take effect from March 2021. The new system allows expatriates the freedom to change jobs, leave and move from one job to another upon the end of the contract, without the employer’s consent, but according to specific controls.

Sponsorship humiliation

Egyptian joy at the idea of abolishing the sponsorship system and getting rid of the legacy of Egyptian workers’ humiliation in Saudi Arabia was tinged with caution, especially as unclear controls may cancel out the advantages of the new system. Fears increased after Saudi tweeters attacked the decision to cancel the sponsorship, considering that it harms the Saudi economy and their private businesses that rely on these workers.

Egyptians believed that abolishing the sponsorship system would not significantly improve the conditions of Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia, as thousands of them lost their jobs in the Kingdom due to economic conditions and the corona pandemic. Saudi Oger laid off thousands of workers in 2016, and a number of these workers had not received their salaries for more than seven months. Reports emerged indicating that the company had stopped providing food for its employees and they couldn’t purchase food from other places due to this system.

Saudi Arabia accounts for the largest share of Egyptian labour in the labour market in the Gulf by about 2.5 to 3 million workers, followed by the UAE, with nearly one million workers. Through the notorious system, the sponsor controls the worker tightly, and some of them abuse the sponsorship and prevent the worker from his rights at work, and the worker cannot move without his sponsor’s consent.

Control of marriage and visitation

There are many stories and shocking complaints from Egyptian workers in Saudi Arabia who are exposed to deception and lies from the travel offices, where the worker travels believing that he will take over the job of a driver, for example, then is surprised when he’s allocated another job on his arrival. Many Egyptian workers in the kingdom explained that they cannot object, change jobs, or demand their rights even if the sponsor or employer deprives them of their monthly salaries.

The persecuted Egyptian worker cannot even leave work and return to his homeland, as his passport is in the sponsor’s possession since his arrival in the Kingdom. He is forced to work there until the term of his contract expires, and he obtains his passport. As a result of the emergence of problems in Saudi society and the labour market there, a study in the Kingdom demanded a ban on holding the worker’s passport and revoking the sponsor’s consent to bring the worker to his family.

It explained that the system obliges the worker to request permission from the sponsor to perform Hajj, marry, or visit one of his relatives in another region inside Saudi Arabia. It demanded the abolition of any personal liability of the sponsor due to the actions of the migrant worker outside the framework of work. Millions of Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries are forced to endure all kinds of humiliation and insult through the sponsorship system due to the social injustice they are exposed to in Egypt, including poverty, unemployment, and security restrictions.