04/30/2008, 00.00
BAHRAIN

In Manama, a minister wants to abolish the law on the "trafficking" of labourers

Foreign workers are prey to their employers: without their permission, they cannot enter the country, nor stay there, nor change jobs. Now the state wants to permit the free circulation of labourers. But it is encountering strong opposition from businessmen.

Manama (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Bahrain's labour minister, Majeed Al Alawi, is insisting on the abolition of the current law that permits employers to keep their employees powerless and drive them out of the country whenever they want. But there is strong opposition from businessmen. Yesterday the minister repeated the intention, shared also by the reigning prince and by the president of the office for economic development, Shaikh Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, to "abolish the practice of sponsorship, liberalise the labour market and allow free movement of labour, irrespective of nationality", by the end of 2008.

The current regulations do not permit workers to enter the country without the "patronage"of an employer, and they also need the employer's permission to change jobs or leave the country.  The labourer is entirely subject to the power of the employer, who at any moment can fire him and drive him out of the country, or can give his labour contract to someone else without any possibility of disagreement from the employee.

The system has often been accused by international bodies as an evident violation of fundamental rights, and a form of "human trafficking".

Now the minister has announced that the International Labour Organisation and Bahrain's Labour Market Regulatory Authority are studying how to abolish the system. 

But businessmen are forcefully opposing the changes, especially the norm that would permit foreign workers to change jobs without the agreement of their employer.  During a debate on April 18 they accused the public authorities of being "keen to enhance the image of Bahrain in the field of human rights at the expense of local people's interests".

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