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|May 9th, 2009, 10:35 AM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2008
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Bahrain to halt labour sponsorship System
From BBC News:
Bahrain has announced it will scrap its sponsorship system for foreign workers - a first in a region often criticised by rights groups over the issue.
The system, known as "kafala", is used to monitor the number of foreigners working in Gulf Arab economies, which rely heavily on cheap foreign labour, mostly recruited from countries from the Indian subcontinent. Bahraini Labour Minister Majeed al-Alawi said the changes would be introduced in August.
Mr Alawi said the main change in the regulations would mean foreign workers would now be directly sponsored by the Labour Authority and would not rely on their employers.
The current system, which is common to all Gulf countries, has long been criticised by human rights groups for placing workers at the mercy of their employers. Employers usually take employees' passports when they enter the country and sometimes use possession of the travel documents to extort a large fee before the workers can leave the country.
Gulf governments have historically welcomed immigrant workers on the assumption that nationals will not do many jobs, which they consider to be below them. Despite this, Majeed al-Alawi told BBC Arabic radio that the new system would form part of a broader initiative to place a ceiling on the number of expatriate workers in Bahrain. The US State Department in 2008 placed Bahrain in tier two - out of three - of its annual human trafficking report for not fully complying with minimum standards to stop the trafficking of people for forced labour or the sex trade. Labour ministers of other Gulf countries have agreed that the present sponsorship system needs to be overhauled.
The system means that expatriate workers can enter, work, and leave the host country only with the permission or assistance of their sponsor. Many sponsors exploit the system to make money. Since the 1970s, there has been a significant increase in the number of immigrants working in the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council or GCC (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates).
The pattern of immigration has also changed as South and Southeast Asian migrant workers have replaced Arab migrants.
They now constitute as much as 90% of the foreign workforce in some GCC States. The "kafala" system has become the legal basis for residency and employment.
Migrant workers receive an entry visa and a residence permit only if a GCC citizen or a GCC institution employs them. Sponsorship requires the sponsor-employer to assume full economic and legal responsibility for the employee during the contract period. The worker can only work for the sponsor and is entirely dependent on their sponsor to remain in the country.
In many GCC States, the sponsor is legally able to confiscate the passports of employees until their contract has ended. Bahrain's Labour Minister Majeed al-Alawi likened the current system to slavery.
Women employed in domestic service are particularly vulnerable. If an employee sues their sponsor for violating labour practices, there is generally no form of unemployment protection while the case is pending in the legal system. And even if the worker wins the case, the usual result is for the sponsor contract to be terminated, meaning that the worker has to leave the country.
While the "kafala" system provides the state with an important means for monitoring labour flow, these policies can infringe the rights of workers as they are often used to deny them justice and basic protection. This is the system that Bahrain says it is now committed to change.
How would this affect the bahraini Jobs Market?
Will Bahrainiz be a more competitive choice?
Will foreign labour workers have more demands?
What do you think??
|May 10th, 2009, 07:03 AM||#2|
Join Date: Apr 2006
Likes (Received): 3
Jobs sponsorship axe plan praised
By BEGENA P PRADEEP, Posted on » Sunday, May 10, 2009
DIPLOMATS and human rights activists have welcomed Bahrain government's move to axe the sponsorship system for foreign workers.
They say it would help wipe out the illegal free visa trade and revolutionise the labour market.
The new law is supposed to allow foreign workers to switch jobs without their existing employers' consent and is to comply with international human rights standards.
Migrant Workers Protection Society action committee head Marietta Dias said any move by the government that would make life easier for migrant workers was welcomed.
"It seems like good news on the surface, but there are lots of issues to be tackled," said the activist.
"Not everything is clear at this initial stage because there are so many problems which can be clarified once the law comes into effect.
"We need to wait and see how the government is going to work it out and have it implemented."
The Indian Embassy said the new law was expected to address a variety of labour issues.
"We welcome the decision allowing expatriates to change jobs from one employer to another," said embassy first secretary Ajay Kumar.
"It will help dilute the sponsorship system.
"The new system will give an opportunity to skilled workers to get jobs suiting their qualifications if they are employed to work in jobs requiring less qualification.
"We also need to wait and see how the implementation of this law will wipe out the free visa trade."
Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society regional and international relations director Faisal Fulad described the move as the "beginning of the end of the slavery system in the Gulf".
"The current system, known as kafala, is common in all Gulf countries and has always been criticised by human rights groups for putting workers at their employers' mercy.
"We welcome the decision and it makes us especially proud as Bahraini will be the first in the Gulf to abolish modern slavery.
"The next right thing for the government, embassies and social welfare groups, is to make more than 400,000 expatriates aware of the new system."
The Shura Council said the business community's worries and concerns were understandable due to Bahrain's small market and the global economic crisis.
"But the sponsors have been eating the sweet cake for so many generations without sharing it.
"It is about time they shared at least the crumbs.
"The sponsors will always have excuses and protest every time the government comes up with any law allowing more rights for workers.
"Every country, except those in the Gulf, allows their expatriate employees to move freely from one company to another. This is what makes a free economy."
Pakistan Embassy chancery head Mohammed Salim told the GDN that the new law would allow expatriate workers to look for greener pastures, legally.
"We applaud the government's initiative to give workers the opportunity to go for greener pastures and they don't have to break the law in the process.
"The move, we believe, will also mean survival of the fittest so Bahrain companies wishing to have a good workforce will have to pay decent salaries and encourage better competitiveness.
"However it is for the government to clarify false cases filed by employers who are not happy about their staff leaving them to join other companies.
"The government needs to have fool-proof arrangements to see that people who go for better opportunities in the proper way are not put into trouble or blacklisted.
"We need to wait and see if there are any flaws in the new system which will be clear once it begins to be implemented."
Bangladesh Embassy first secretary Mohammed Ibrahim said with the implementation of the move, the supply of workers will be based on demand.
"We welcome this news and congratulate the government for it.
"It will control the unnecessary flow of workers into Bahrain which, in turn, will bring some sort of control on the free visa trade.
"Thus the supply of expatriate workers to Bahrain will depend on demand."
Labour Minister and Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) chairman Dr Majeed Al Alawi said Bahrainis would become more attractive recruits, since employers will no longer be able to force foreign workers to stay.
The country may also slap a ceiling on the number of foreign workers allowed in.
However, the decision will be taken in consultation with the private sector to ensure that development projects are not affected.
Foreign workers' mobility is stipulated in Article 25 of ministerial decree 19 for 2006.
However, it was published in the Official Gazette last Thursday, after discussions in parliament and approval by the Cabinet.
It becomes law three months after publication in the gazette.
Dr Al Alawi earlier dismissed potential objections by the business community, saying the law was being implemented as part of Bahrain's commitment to international human rights standards in the labour market.
Once it takes effect, foreign workers will have the right to move from one employer to another, provided they abide by the law.
The work permit issued to the new employer, will be valid from the moment the assigned fees are paid.
It will be the worker's responsibility to inform the LMRA at least 30 days before the expiry of his original permit, or within five days of it being cancelled by the employer.
This can be done electronically and the worker will be granted 30 days grace to move to the other employer, during which he may not take up any form of employment.
Dr Al Alawi had maintained that it was illegal for employers to withhold workers' passports, to prevent them from leaving the company. firstname.lastname@example.org