Workshop with GCC governments promotes a rights-based approach to employment contract termination for migrant workers in the Gulf

The ILO, together with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), UN Women and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the GCC Executive Bureau co-hosted a workshop with representatives of the six GCC governments (United Arab Emirates, Kingdom of Bahrain, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Sultanate of Oman, State of Qatar and State of Kuwait) to discuss legislation, policies, reforms, good practices and remaining challenges in addressing issues around ‘unexplained absences’ from the workplace.

Despite important reforms in many GCC countries to ensure a rights-based approach to employment contract termination, the issue of ‘unexplained absences’ from work, commonly referred to as ‘absconding’, continues to place undue power in the hands of employers, by enabling them to trigger the termination of a migrant worker's residence permit for an ‘unexplained absence’. Because migrant workers may not be aware of the existence of these frameworks or how to contest an ‘absconding’ charge, they may be vulnerable to abuse, especially in the case of migrant domestic workers.

Following preliminary research conducted by the ILO, IOM, OHCHR and UN Women to better understand the legal basis for ‘absconding’ in the GCC countries, the two-day workshop, which took place in Bahrain, was intended as an opportunity to discuss these important issues, identify promising practices and explore future areas for reform.

The workshop provided an opportunity for each of the GCC countries to outline the the legal and institutional framework regarding ‘unexplained absence’, and the process that is applied in each country, while identifying the key challenges faced by migrant workers

The workshop also provided an opportunity to explore recent reforms and good practices within and outside the region, with a view to promoting a more robust rights-based approach to employment contract termination.

The key recommendation proposed by the UN agencies was that migrant workers, regardless of their sector of employment and including migrant domestic workers, should be able to terminate their employment contract without losing their residence rights, even in cases of ‘unexplained absence’, provided that they can find a new employer. Thus, administrative charges against migrant workers who leave the workplace without the employer’s permission, and which then result in migrant workers falling into irregular status, should be reviewed, and revised or replaced.