In all of the GCC countries, provisions under the labour law allow employers to take disciplinary action against workers who leave their place of employment. Despite the existence of these provisions, absconding charges are used to harass workers. Gulf governments are aware that employers exploit this power, yet penalties are rarely levied against employers who file false or malicious charges, and they continue to incentivize employers to report absconded workers.
The process almost always privileges employers’ testimonies, even when clear evidence exists to the contrary. Migrants reported as absconded can be subject to indefinite detention, deportation, and forfeiture of any claims to wages or other labour issues. Most migrant workers are unaware of how to contest these charges, and few are ever given the opportunity to do so.
Absconding charges are an egregious feature of the Kafala system, linked to employers’ inordinate control over workers and restrictions on changing employers, which — combined with poor complaints mechanisms — often leaves workers in abusive employment situations with no option but to leave their employers. In turn, the fear of being reported as absconding forces many workers to endure wage theft, physical abuse, and other unacceptable working conditions. The criminalisation of absconding is therefore a conduit of exploitation and forced labour.
Though advocates of migrant rights have demanded the decriminalisation of absconding for a long time now, none of the GCC states has shown any inclination to do so, and instead doubled down, introducing more stringent measures against workers. See our comparison of absconding procedures here.