Understanding the Bahrain Labour Market
The new system of flexible work permits
Bahrain has proposed a new system of work permits. These have been called ‘flexible’ work permits.
Implications of the new work permits
They can perhaps be ‘spun’ as some improvement of the current permit system that allows exploitation of migrant workers by employers keeping passports and abuses with little risk of meaningful repercussions. It is also asserted that these new permits will help with illegal workers, those overstaying on their visas and work permits.
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However, the lack of vocal employer opposition to it makes me suspicious. Further, the very words and terms being used by some about this permit change are wide off the mark as they are dissembling and disingenuous. For example, the new system is presented as allowing ‘flexibility’ and workers being their ‘own boss’ – indeed, this echoes the current naïve assertions by some about the ‘gig economy’ in the UK. For example, workers are only numerically flexible and this encourages self-exploitation as it allows working for more than one employer, which assumes part time jobs.
Further, the very words and terms being used by some about this permit change are wide off the mark as they are dissembling and disingenuous.
The poor pay and precarious, pernicious nature of such jobs are too often glossed over. Also, such workers will not somehow be transformed into their ‘own boss’ at all as the power relationship with the employer remains one-sided and unbalanced. Workers simply cannot afford to pick and choose if and when to work or for whom.
Furthermore, employers only have to pay for the services rendered, whereas workers have to bear their own costs, such as of sponsorship, healthcare and insurance.
Is this moving in the right direction?
In terms of reforming the Bahraini labour market, I am not sure this flexible work permit system is the right route. First, encouraging such numerical flexibility such as this does not encourage ‘upgrading’ in the economy, which requires investment in human capital and development, which in turn is predicated on
First, encouraging such numerical flexibility such as this does not encourage ‘upgrading’ in the economy, which requires investment in human capital and development, which in turn is predicated on long-term commitment to achieve the rewards and payback. Encouraging the greater use of ‘flexible’ or in other words easily ‘disposable’ workers is the very opposite to this as short-termism is encouraged.
Second, a better route to reforming the labour market along these lines and encouraging more ‘functional flexibility’ could involve better safety in terms of terms and conditions, such as a legally-enforced national minimum wage (and reaching beyond nationals), which would take labour costs and hence, wages, out of competition.
This would then encourage Bahraini employers and managers to think creatively, clearly and strategically about how to compete better in a different, more value-added manner and the commensurate HR implications of that.
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Headline image smurfy workers courtesy Mark Puplava of freeimages.com
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