Bahrain takes steps to combat Middle East runaway epidemic

Runaway epidemic sweeps the region’s labour market with the construction industry one of the most problematic sectors

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By  Rhys Jones Published  April 10, 2004

Bahrain's Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has taken steps to deal with an epidemic of runaway workers that is sweeping the region’s construction industry. The ministry has already started conducting regular inspections at important commercial establishments in a bid to stamp out the crisis. The regulations were implemented after the success of a joint programme between the ministry and Manama Municipality, aiming to catch runaway and free-visa workers at central markets, commercial complexes and Manama souqs. Assistant Undersecretary of Labour and Social Affairs, Sadiq Abdulkareem Al Shahabi, emphasised that finding a solution has become a major part of the ministry’s efforts to regulate the country’s labour market. “A team has been formed to monitor the problem and refer runaway workers straight to court. There are two types of runaways: those who run away from their employer to find another job and those who are brought to the country to be used for cheap labour,” said Al Shahabi. This visa problem is badly affecting the Kingdom’s Bahrainisation drive, meaning the ministry has had to recruit more inspectors to visit establishments and fine the violators. “The problem won’t be solved without the full co-operation of private and public organisations, which shouldn’t hire free-visa workers because such a practice will affect the national economy in future,” said Al Shahabi. “Individuals have to be responsible enough and not hire free-visa or runaway help,” he added. New regulations are set to be implemented by Bahrain’s ministry, meaning it will be able to issue work permits for domestic helpers to reduce the negative effects of runaway workers. The issue is not soley isolated to Bahrain however, with the problem creating waves all over the region’s construction industry. The UAE in particular has experienced trouble with runaway’s and free-visa workers, with many workers returning to their original employer over two years after disappearing. “Runaway’s sometimes go back to the company that hired them after over two years away. The company then has to provide a ticket home for these people so it is 100% the company’s problem,” said Sohail Vakil, recruitment manager, Al Vakil Recruitment. “There have been no hard and fast rules about this until now,” he added. It seems that absconding is the only option left for many workers that have not been paid for months and there is a large demand for workers who do not need to be issued with a visa and flown out to the region. “If workers get their salary on time they are happy. However, if they don’t they [workers] will seek other work and may run away. Demand for these workers is high because companies save on visa costs so will pay these people a higher wage,” said Vakil.

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