Wednesday, February 11, 2009

BD500 fine is urged for runaway workers despite objections

The latest MP brainfart reported in today's GDN...

BD500 fine is urged for runaway workers despite objections

RUNAWAY workers could soon be fined up to BD500 if caught before being deported from the country.

MPs yesterday voted in favour of the amendment to the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) law, despite objections from Labour Minister Dr Majeed Al Alawi, who said that it was against conventions Bahrain had signed and implemented.

The government-draft is based on an earlier proposal by parliament.

Dr Al Alawi said that under the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, running away or leaving work was not a crime.

"We can't force a criminal charge against runaway workers or those who leave their jobs, because it is against ILO agreements that we are obliged to follow," he said.

"Deporting them is the only thing we can do, considering that we are obliged to ensure that there is no discrimination between expatriate and local workers."

He said that expatriate workers don't have BD500 to pay.

"They would prefer going to jail. Can our jails accommodate 3,000 plus runaway workers?

"Those who should be punished are sponsors and those who employ those runaway workers and that is enough."

Dr Al Alawi said that the LMRA was currently taking electronic fingerprints of labourers once they step into Bahrain International Airport.

"Our inspectors have mobile inspection units, in which they take the fingerprint of labourers at various sites, and if they are runaways, action is taken," he said.

"So far 35,000 runaway workers have been deported, before the introduction of the system, and there are 15,000 cases that we are investigating."

Parliament chairman Khalifa Al Dhahrani said that many sponsors were being forced to pay for the tickets of runaway expatriate workers after five years of disappearance.

"It is unfair to be punished for their disappearance in the first place, as the business gets affected, and then they have to pay for them to go back home.

"It is not right to pay fees to bring the worker and then he easily moves to someone else for free. This means that in the end the businessmen are losing."

Mr Al Dhahrani said that Bahrain was wrong in signing every agreement without knowing its impact on the country and whether it could be implemented.

"We are not obliged to follow everything, just look at the West, they have special laws for Arabs and Muslims as they enter their countries, which they don't follow here, despite those countries coming under international agreements and treaties," he said.

Mr Al Dhahrani said that the fingerprint system was outstanding, but the numbers of inspectors were low compared to the work.

Services committee secretary Ibrahim Busandal said that Bahrain already had a different system for both Bahrainis and expatriates.

"Businessmen don't need a permit for Bahrainis, just for expatriates, and there are punishments for runaway Bahrainis. So don't come here and speak about equality, because it does not exist and is difficult to make it exist," he said.

Also under the law, those who employ or hide runaway workers will be fined up to BD500. Housemaids also come under this law.

The draft law will now be presented to the Shura Council for approval, and if passed, will be ratified by His Majesty King Hamad.

Hopefully the Shura Council will throw this one out. What is the overwhelming reason people runaway from their employers? Because they are mentally or physically abused, treated as slaves or not paid what they have been promised, or not paid at all... this is well-known. Yes, occasionally a person will runaway because they get a better offer... but that usually means that the first employer is probably not paying the market wage, and there is probably no power for the worker to negotiate... Maybe a runaway is dishonest, but that is the employer's risk in hiring... maybe they should be more selective in their recruitment, and there should be a legal system that caters for these cases anyway, rather than a broad brush approach to fine all runaways, when in the majority of cases it is the employers/slave masters that are the ones that should be punished.

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