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The New Arab Staff

Saudis can now get insurance cover for 'runaway maids'

Saudi Arabia has been condemned for its treatment of workers [Getty]

Date of publication: 31 March, 2021

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Saudi Arabia will announce an insurance scheme to compensate people if their domestic workers decide to leave their employers.

Saudi Arabia's ministry of human resources and social development could soon launch an insurance scheme to compensate people if hired domestic workers decide to "run away" from their employers. 

The ministry and the Saudi Central Bank have completed all studies and procedures for the policy to go ahead, according to Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper.

Employers would be compensated the recruitment costs if an employee absconds or refuses to complete their contract after their three-month trial period ends.

The insurance policy also covers domestic workers' salaries if employers are unable to pay them.

The insurance will not be compulsory but there will be incentives to encourage employers to join.

Saudi media said the insurance policy will be valid for two years with a premium of less than SR500 ($133). 

This comes a week after the Saudi health insurance regulator announced that all private sector companies must provide health insurance to employees and their families.

Riyadh is making changes to the Saudi private sector to attract talent and boost the economy, which has taken a hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Analysts say its abysmal record of human rights abuses and reputation for the poor treatment of migrant workers could hinder attracting talent.

The controversial kafala - or sponsorship system - governs the life of migrant labourers in most of Gulf countries.

Under the rules, foreign workers are tied to one employer who control their ability to exit the country or change jobs.

It has been widely criticised by human rights groups for making foreign workers vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

After years of pressure, Saudi Arabia said in November it would reform some aspects of the system. The changes came into effect mid-March.

Riyadh said the reforms will allow foreign workers the right to change jobs by transferring their sponsorship from one employer to another. They will also be able to leave and re-enter the country and secure final exit visas without the consent of their employer, according to local media reports.

However, the kingdom did not specify whether employers can report workers for absconding.

Currently, if an employer reports an employee for absconding or is unable to cancel their visa then the worker becomes "undocumented" and so liable for arrest and deportation. 

"This is not the first time that Saudi Arabia had claimed it was replacing or abolishing the kafala system. In 2000, it removed the term from its laws and replaced it with language referring to contractual relationships while allowing employers to retain the same powers," Human Rights Watch said.

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