Gulf and Asian labour ministers agreed on Thursday on a series of initiatives aimed at boosting protection and improving conditions of employment for millions of foreign workers in the Gulf, officials said.
The deal followed two days of talks between ministers from the 12 Asian labour-sending countries and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, which hosts at least 15 million workers, mostly Asian.
They welcomed a proposal by the International Labour Organisation to assist in “preventing abuse in the recruitment process, protecting workers’ rights, improving regulation and strengthening oversight of private recruitment,” in a final statement of the end of the meeting.
The measures include initiatives and programmes for wage protection, for speedier settlement of labour disputes, a skill development and testing programme and a pre-departure orientation initiative, the Emirati labour ministry undersecretary for policies and strategy, Omar Al Nuaimi, said.
The governments in the latest round of the Abu Dhabi Dialogue, launched in the UAE capital in 2008, negotiated “in a positive and responsible way for the benefit of workers,” Nuaimi said.
“The issue of expatriate manpower cannot be effectively managed, and their protection and rights cannot be improved without a strong partnership between receiving and sending countries,” he said. The wage protection programme obliges all GCC members to transfer salaries of workers to banks to ensure payment and easy monitoring.
A disputes settlement programme is currently being implemented in Saudi Arabia, where around 10 million foreigners live, to ensure a swift and efficient legal system to help workers, Nuaimi said.
It will be expanded to other GCC states.
Kuwaiti Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Hind Al Subaih, however, said the “kafala” sponsorship system was not raised during the conference.
Philippines Secretary of Labour and Employment Rosalkinda Baldoz welcomed the initiatives but said that problems were still facing migrant workers in the Gulf and called for effective labour management mechanisms to protect them.
Ahead of the conference, GCC labour ministers agreed on minimum terms in the contracts of domestic workers to improve the working conditions of over 2.4 million foreign maids.
The new contract entitles domestic workers to a weekly day off, annual leave and the right to live outside their employer’s house, the director general of Kuwait’s Public Manpower Authority, Jamal Al Dossari,said.
It also limits the working day to eight hours.