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Bahrain scraps sponsorship system
The Bahraini government has said that foreign workers can move from one job to another without approval from their employer, a first for the region.
May 5, 2009 11:17 by Aarti Nagraj
Bahrain’s Minister of Labor, Majeed Al Alawi, announced the country will implement a new labor law in the next three months that will abolish the sponsorship system for foreign workers. The move will allow expatriates to switch jobs without their employers’ consent, reports The National.
“The end of the sponsor system is the most important aspect of this law because in my opinion that phenomena does not differ much from the system of slavery and it is not something suitable for a modernized country like Bahrain,” said Al Alawi, who is also chairman of Bahrain’s Labor Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA).
“Some employers who recruit workers and dump them in the market in return for monthly share of their income, will no longer be able to do so,” he added.
He also said that it was illegal for employers to hold back workers’ passports. “We have made it clear several times that no employer has the right to withhold the passport of a worker,” he said, adding “Such workers can file a case in the court and get their passports released.”
A worker now just has to give a three month notice period to his employer, and then inform the LMRA at least 30 days before the expiry of his original work permit. His new employer will have to apply for a new work permit.
“For certain professions, the employer may insist that the employee does not work for a competitor for at least six months,” said Al Alawi. “However, this is binding only if it is specified in the mutually agreed contract.”
Al Alawi has meanwhile dismissed objections from people in the business community that letting workers switch jobs would disrupt their operations. “I doubt that we will see huge number of workers attempting to change work, but people are naturally fearful of change but this law will help improve things,” he said.
He also said that the country is looking into the possibility of the government sponsoring expatriate workers.
The law, which has been approved by the cabinet after discussions in the parliament, will take effect in August. The government hopes that the law will also help restricting the numbers of expatriates entering the country, and that it will encourage employers to recruit more Bahrainis.
“The new law will help revitalize the labor market in the country, raise wages and improve the overall work atmosphere for everyone, including citizens,” Al Alawi said.
The law is the first of its kind in the region; will it motivate other GCC nations to pass similar laws?