Bahrain to do away with sponsorship regime

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New Delhi, May 4: Amid reports of large-scale exploitation of expatriate workers by their employers in the West Asia Bahrain has begun steps to end the sponsorship regime. "I hope we will be able to abolish the sponsorship system by the end of this year," Bahrain Labour Minister Dr Majeed Al Alawi told the sources in an interview here. "Sponsorship is not insisted in labour or immigration laws. It has been practiced through ages," he said.

Dr Alawi, who was here in connection with the finalisation of labour agreement with India early this week, said an International Labour Organisation (ILO) expert will work with the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) in drafting the best measures for achieving it.

"I am sure an appropriate mechanism, in lieu of the sponsorship system, will be in place by this year end." "Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and Economic Development Board Chairman Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa is very keen to abolish the practice of sponsorship and liberalise the labour market," he said.

Dr Al Alawi said the abolition of sponsorship system would allow free movement of labour, irrespective of their nationality, as the government allowed free movement of capital and services.

"The abolition of the sponsorship system will fulfill the government objective of preventing the violation of human rights and all types of human trafficking," he said, adding that no employer would be allowed to keep the passports of the employees once the new system, under which the state would be the sponsor of all the expatriates, came into being.

"We are taking care of expatriate workers. We believe they are contributing immensely to the development of our country. Therefore, their contractual rights had to be protected."

Dr Al Alawi said once the sponsorship system was abolished, it would allow the expatriate workers to look for another job if he was not happy with the existing employer. In the event of any delay in getting another job, he would be entitled to allowance from the Unemployment benefit scheme. "The benefit of the scheme is being extended not only to Bahrainis but also to non-Bahrainis," he said, while pointing out that a monthly dole of 120 Dinar (Rs 12,000) is given to non-graduates and 150 Dinar (Rs 15,000) to Graduates." He claimed that Bahrain was the first country in the West Asia to implement the unemployment benefit scheme, which was widely acclaimed as a revolutionary step.

Asked about the progress of Bahrainisation, he said the rate of unemployment was just 2.5 per cent in his country.

In this context, he explained that if all the Bahrainis were employed, the country would again need 95 per cent expatriates.

Asked about the present status of his proposal to enforce a six-year residency cap for expatriates in the Gulf, Dr Al Alawi said he had mooted the idea when he was the Chairman of the GCC Labour Minister's Council. He suggested the proposal in the context of the fact that the local people are minorities in the Gulf Countries as compared to expatriates.

Though the proposal was supported by all the GCC countries, it was not received well by the Chamber of Commerce. The issue was, however, not on the agenda of the next summit meeting of the GCC countries in Sultanate of Oman in December this year

Dr Al Alawi said in reply to a question that 60 billion US dollars are remitted to Asian countries from GCC countries every year. With Indian expatriate population in the GCC countries totalling five million, the remittances to India must be 20 billion dollars. Referring to the proposed Labour agreement with India, he said the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two countries would be signed in June this year.

Bahrain is home for 280,000 expatriate Indians with people from Kerala accounting for about 70 per cent.

He said he had held extensive discussions with Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi on the MoU and both of them had initialled the draft agreement on labour mobility and manpower development between the two countries.

Dr Al Alawi said the draft agreement had to be given approvals by the respective governments.

He said the proposed MoU would provide an institutional framework for strengthening bilateral cooperation in the deployment of Indian workers in Bahrain and would cover a wide range of activities to make labour mobility simple, transparent and efficient.

Under the new agreement, recruitments would have to be in conformity with the laws of both the countries.

It seeks to extend the protection of labour laws to all categories of workers, while making it mandatory that the terms and conditions of employment contract to be in conformity with the work permit. All contracts to be authenticated by the Bahraini government.

The MoU envisages a Joint Committee consisting of three members from each country to oversee the implementation of the MoU.

Once the agreement comes into force, it will help to find solution to malpractices like substitution of contracts, delayed or non-payment of wages, harsh working/living conditions, denial of contractual facilities, ill-treatment and physical abuse of workers.

Besides providing a framework to address these problems, the MoU also covers the domestic workers and others in the informal sector who do not have the protection of labour laws. There are about 50,000 expatriate domestic workers in Bahrain, of which about 20,000 are Indians.

UNI

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