Abu Dhabi: The United Arab Emirates has eased its tough rules for foreign workers who want to change employer, loosening the controversial "sponsor" system in force in the Arab states of the Gulf.
"An employee with an expired contract can obtain a new work permit and shift to another employer" without having to wait six months and have his sponsor`s consent, the Labour Ministry said.
The new regulation takes effect in January and will "replace the current formalities of transfer of sponsorship for expatriate workers”, it said in a statement carried by the Emirati state news agency WAM.
It said the measure applies only if the two parties in a labour contract have "ended their work relationship cordially" and the employee has "worked with his employer for at least two years”.
However, if the employer "fails to honour his legal or contractual obligations" or if the contract is proven to have been prematurely terminated" by the employer, the worker will have the right to change jobs.
The sponsorship system practised in the Gulf`s oil-rich Arab states which employ millions of foreigners, mostly Asians, has been heavily criticised by human rights organisations, which liken it to modern-day slavery.
The UAE has 1.75 million Indian population, which is the largest expatriate community in this country.
Seen as the cause of most abuses, the system requires foreign workers to have "sponsors”, usually local nationals, who can keep their passports and deny them the right to change jobs.
Bahrain was the first to abolish the sponsorship system in August 2009, while Kuwait said it will follow suit in February.
The International Labour Organisation in early October urged Gulf countries to protect millions of migrant workers by reforming the sponsor system and introducing a minimum wage.
The ILO suggested a monthly minimum of 60 dinars (USD 215) for Kuwait, and it also called for foreign workers to be allowed to form representative organisations to seek redress for rights violations.
Immigration regulations in Kuwait allow for criminal charges against workers who leave their jobs, while in Saudi Arabia and Qatar workers must have their employers’ permission to secure exit visas to leave the country.
The ILO estimates 15 million migrant workers live in the six Arab states of the Gulf, making up about 40 percent of the total population.
Foreigners form a majority of the population in all six countries, except for Saudi Arabia, and more than 90 percent in the Emirates and Qatar, according to the ILO.