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New Bahrain rule may end labour exploitation

1.25 lakh Bangladeshi workers see fresh hope

Around 1.25 lakh Bangladeshis working in Bahrain see a light of hope, as the Gulf country has decided to end the labour sponsorship system, which for long has been a way for employers to exploit foreign workers.

The new rule, which will take effect in August this year, will lead to a 'more liberalised and dynamic' labour market, allowing foreign workers to move from one employer to another without having to seek their sponsor's permission, said Majeed al-Alawi, Bahrain's minister of labour, on Tuesday.

Under the sponsorship system, employers retain passports of foreign workers and often do not allow them to change jobs, sometimes they do not even pay the workers or pay less than the promised wages. Due to the practice, some workers often flee their jobs and become illegal, losing their right to seek justice.

"Sponsorship is not humane. We think sponsorship is outdated," Al Jazeera Online quoted al-Alawi on Thursday. "This will bring our laws into the 21st century," al-Alawi added.

The decision, announced by the Gulf nation, marks a victory for human rights organisations, who have been criticising the controversial practice, citing instances of employers withholding pay and holding onto workers' passports.

Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira) also hailed Bahrain's move, saying it will bring an end to the practices that caused in many cases sufferings to foreign workers including Bangladeshis.

"Workers will be able to find better jobs if they find their present jobs unsuitable, or if employers do not have jobs," said Baira President Ghulam Mustafa.

Labour sponsorship system is existent in most of the Middle Eastern countries. Some countries however recently started thinking of scrapping it following criticisms from international human rights organisations.

Abdulla Al Derazi, secretary-general of Bahrain Human Rights Society, told Al Jazeera on Thursday that the decision was a 'courageous step'.

"This is something that the Human Rights Society in Bahrain has been asking and pushing for because [the sponsorship system] contradicts international conventions on human rights," he said.

"It will make a big difference. This will help migrant labourers to have more opportunities of better work, rather than being restricted by one sponsor who will control them all the time."

Under the new system, the government will take over the responsibility for providing foreign employees with work permits issued for renewable periods of two years, Al Ahmed Randhi, chief executive of Bahrain's labour market regulatory authority, told AFP.

Randhi said the system will help Bahrain 'conform to international regulations and human rights norms'.

Foreigners make up about a half of Bahrain's population of just more than a million people.

Many low wage jobs in oil rich Gulf nations are filled by foreign workers, whose residency permits are often linked to a sponsoring employer.

Bahrain will become the first Gulf Arab nation to end the sponsorship system, Al Jazeera reported.

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It is fairly reasonable to assume that every foreign worker knows what they can expect once they take up employment. They are so desperate they pretend everything is rosy and accept every abuse that is thrown at them. It is rather strange that Bahrain's minister of labour suddenly realised that sponsorship is not humane and outdated. However, I am glad it is better late than never. His actions will also set precedence in the Middle Eastern countries. It is high time our laborers are recognised for their input. We need to be cautious though regarding the migrant laborers having more opportunities of better work with the demise of the sponsorship law. This is the 21st century and every country should be already conforming to international regulations and human rights norms, but sadly reality is far from it. Top marks to Bahrain for acknowledging human values.

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This is certainly a good news for Bangladeshi expatriates working in Bahrain. We must thank human rights organizations for achieving this victory and the government of Bahrain to realise the genuine demand and also to become the 1st gulf state in showing respect to human rights.

This is going to mark the end of sponsor's exploitation and usher a new era in Bahrain's labour market. Hopefully other gulf states will follow this precedence in the coming days.

: Dr.M S ALI Sanwar

 

 


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