New flexible permit in Bahrain gives employees the right to work for more than one organisation

Author: Kirsty Tuxford | Date: 30 Nov 2016

Expats who have overstayed their visa through no fault of their own can pay to stay for a further two years

The authorities in Bahrain are creating a new work permit, which gives some employees the right to work for more than one employer.
 
However, workers must also act as their own sponsor and pay the associated fees. The permits will be available from the second quarter of 2017 through the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA).
 
“The aim is to ensure economic flexibility and enable the private sector to employ workers to carry out temporary and casual work instead of illegal workers,” cabinet secretary general Dr Yasser Al Nasser said in a statement.
 
The holder of the work permit takes on the responsibility of paying BD200 for the permit, BD144 for healthcare and a monthly BD30 fee for social insurance. Also covered by these payments will be a deposit for a flight home. Employers are only liable to pay the permit holder’s wages.
 
The permits will last for two years and be available for qualified foreign workers who have stayed longer than their visa allows due to having been exploited or abused by their former employers. Those who left their employer for no justifiable reason or who are accused of serious offences will not be eligible for the new permit. Only those who began working before 20 September 2016 may apply.
 
The permit allows an employee to hold two part-time jobs with different organisations, but does not cover specialist jobs such as doctors or engineers.
 
A report from the Migrant Rights group estimates that around 10,000 illegal workers are likely to be integrated into the new scheme. LMRA figures suggest there were approximately 32,000 illegal workers in Bahrain in 2015, and 60,000 illegal residents.
 
Given that the foreigners make up 79 per cent of the workforce in Bahrain, and that this workforce is growing more rapidly than the local workforce, the new rules could have a significant effect on the economy, giving “much-needed” flexibility in the local labour market, LMRA CEO Ausamah Al Absi said during a press conference.
 
Professor Chris Rowley, an expert in human resource management at Cass Business School, is doubtful the new visa will be an improvement for employees. “The lack of vocal employer opposition to it makes me suspicious,” he said. “Also, it is presented as allowing ‘flexibility’ and workers being their own boss – yet they will only be numerically flexible. The new permit encourages self-exploitation as it allows working for more than one employer, which assumes part-time jobs.
 
“The poor pay and precarious nature of such jobs are glossed over. Also, such workers will not be their own boss as the power relationship with the employer remains one-sided. Employers only have to pay for the services rendered, whereas workers have to bear their own costs, such as sponsorship, healthcare and insurance,” he said.
 
“A better route to reforming the labour market along these lines and encouraging more ‘functional flexibility’ could involve some sort of terms-and-conditions safety net, such as a legally-enforced national minimum wage (beyond nationals), which would take labour costs and hence wages out of completion and encourage Bahraini employers to compete in a different, more value-added manner,” added Rowley.
 
First deputy chairman of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), Khalid Al Zayani, has described the new permit scheme as an important step: “The flexible work permit will reform the labour market and protect the rights of all parties involved,” he said.
 
An awareness campaign about the permit is being launched and specialist centres established to deal with the expected influx of applications.