The Kingdom of Bahrain is the first to announce the abandonment of the sponsor system (Kafala) and, with the assistance of the International Labor Organization (ILO), has begun the adoption of an alternative system.
The Bahraini Labor Market Regulatory Authority has proceeded to issue flexible work permits to foreign workers in order to eliminate the phenomenon of cover-up and the black visa market. The worker will be fully accountable to the law for his/her situation, as he/she will pay for health and social insurance, work permit, residence and return ticket. The flexible work permit system was a corrective movement of the labor market that enabled foreign workers to work without the sponsor system. The system targeted low and medium-skilled occupations. The Kingdom of Bahrain is also seeking through the system to correct labor market distortions and eliminate the black visa market.
Recent government reforms include safety regulations, measures to combat human trafficking, workers’ rights education campaigns, and rules giving migrants greater ability to leave their employers. Human Rights Watch found that authorities enforce some safeguards, such as a ban on midday construction work during dangerously hot summer months. But authorities have not adequately carried out several other worker protections, such as those against withholding wages, charging recruitment fees, and confiscating passports. All of these practices make it harder for workers to leave abusive work situations.
Migrant workers strike on September 7, 2021
On September 7th, Bahraini tweets posted a video showing thousands of foreign workers going on strike in Bahrain protesting maltreatment and abuse. Workers were beaten because of poor working conditions, while workers from India launched appeals to their embassy to intervene to rescue them at a time when the Bahraini Ministry of Interior did not intervene in any way to redress them. Thousands of migrant workers from Nasser S. Al Hajri Corporation W.L.L, Gulf Asia Contracting Company LLC, and Bahrain Petroleum Company , staged a nearly week-long protest in Bahrain over poor working and living conditions, resulting in violent reprisal from the companies ‘security personnel and the police.
According to sources, the workers were complaining about several issues, including unsafe working conditions, unhygienic and crowded accommodation, nonpayment of wages, and substandard food. The workers, hailing mainly India and Nepal, initiated a strike on Tuesday, 7 September, after one of them allegedly had sunstroke and was hospitalized.
The strike morphed into a week-long protest when the companies’ security personnel began to intimidate and harass the workers. According to sources on the ground and several videos circulating on social media, some workers were severely beaten, sustaining acute injuries including bloody bruising. Social workers in Bahrain told MR (Migrant Rights organization) that the workers blamed the deaths and sickness on the company’s’ working conditions, unhygienic accommodation, and lack of safety equipment.
Bahrain’s employers have been violating the rights of migrant workers for many years to the point of human trafficking despite the amendment of the foster care system, in the absence of any deterrent action by the Bahraini authorities. Employers impose heavy fees on workers to keep them in Bahrain to work on a free visa. Several violations of workers arriving in Bahrain are highlighted by law organizations, including: low wages, confiscation of the passports of incoming workers, excessive and forced labor, and sometimes physical, psychological and sexual abuse.
Add to that the exploitation of bulk workers by the greedy that make huge money from foreign workers and deceive them to work in Bahrain by making false promises to provide job opportunities with attractive salaries for them, so that foreign workers borrow money or sell their property in their own countries. Upon arrival in Bahrain, they find themselves without work.
Victims of human trafficking are drawn through deception or coercion and deprived of their independence, freedom of movement and choice. This third type is the largest criminal trade after the drug and arms trade, according to a report by the Peace Organization for Democracy and Human Rights.
Human Rights Watch revealed that employers who violate the rights of migrant workers do not normally face penalties under Bahraini law and rarely face the criminal consequences set out in the Penal Code and anti-trafficking laws if they face them at all. Human Rights Watch has not found evidence that Bahraini authorities have exploited anti-human trafficking legislation in force since 2008 to criminally prosecute labor offences.