Bahrain to impose cap on foreigners to boost local employment amid concerns about “alien” cultural and social threats

March 7, 2010
By

Crown Prince Salman (R) with Al Alawi

Bahrain is set to impose a cap on the number of expatriates in all work sectors amid concerns about threats related to the existence of massive numbers of expatriates, the labour minister has said.

“One of the priorities of the Labour Market Regulatory Authority after its restructuring is to impose caps on foreigners,” Majeed Al Alawi said. “The plan will be carried out with the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry, but without the need for coordination from other Gulf countries,” he said in the sidelines of an Arab labour conference in Manama.

Al Alawi has been spearheading a drive within the Gulf Cooperation Council to impose residence caps on foreigners, mainly unskilled labourers, in the Arabian Gulf to limit their cultural and social influences and to offer nationals in the six member countries more and better employment opportunities.

His drive picked up steam after he secured the accord of other labour ministers who agreed on a five-year cap, but their collective plea was twice foiled by powerful business communities that wanted to keep the flow of cheap and compliant workers.

A move to replace most of the Asians with workers from Arab countries to limit influences on the local cultures has also been stalled.

“Today, we have around 17 million foreigners working in the Arabian Gulf. Even, if there is competition from Arabs to enter the Gulf markets, it will not exceed 15 per cent of the opportunities,” Al Alawi said. “It is true that the Gulf countries have brought in the foreigners. But this does not change the prevailing logic that the presence of high numbers of non-Arabs in the region in the next 20 years will alter the political and demographic outlook of the region.”

The minister said that he had talks with labour leaders and officials in 11 countries that send their nationals to work in the Gulf.

“We agreed that their expatriates were on a contract basis, and not as immigrants. This is very important from a legal point of view. But the reality on the ground indicates that it is difficult to repatriate a foreigner who spends more than 30 years here,” he said. “This poses a big threat to the Gulf’s demography and there is therefore an urgent need to boost coordination between the private sector in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and the countries that send nationals to work here,” the minister said.

Al Alawi insisted that Bahrain did not have to accept the minimum wages set by countries that send citizens to work in the Gulf.

“Every country is free to make its own decisions on the issue, and to me these are sovereign decisions. In Bahrain, we do not have to accept them,” he said.

Attempts by some Asian countries to impose a minimum wage for its nationals in the Arabian Gulf have often resulted in manpower agencies resisting them and resorting to other nationalities to hire workers.

The minister, a former opposition figure who was given the labour portfolio in 2002, said that Bahrain had spent around $80 million to bring down unemployment from 16 to four per cent and to increase the salaries of 17,000 employees.

According to the minister, the Arab world has to create five million jobs to tackle unemployment.

“The number is limited to those who need to enter the labour market. It would be much higher if we included those who are already unemployed,” he said. “The creation of new jobs is not the job of labour ministries only. It also involves other ministries,” he said

 

 

         

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About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Career
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
Education
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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