The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) has praised the government's decision to abolish the sponsorship system, which binds expatriates' right to work and reside in the Kingdom to the permission of their sponsor. The sponsorship system has long been criticized by human rights groups for restricting the free movement of workers between jobs, and has been compared to slavery. Workers who are abused or unpaid by their employers often have no choice but to stay put under the current law, despite the considerable risks to their welfare.
Some leaders in the business community, such as construction magnate Samir Nass, have slammed the government's decision to remove the sponsorship system, claiming that free movement of workers will spell disaster for companies, with workers walking out of jobs as and when it suits them.
However, BCHR argues in its recent statement that the ruling on sponsorship will be beneficial for both workers rights and for the economy as a whole.
According to BCHR:
The BCHR sees in this positive initiative a step towards promoting the protection of the human rights of this vulnerable group of society who have made major contributions to their host countries in the Gulf in terms of construction and infrastructure in the past decades. Abolishing the sponsorship system will make Bahraini workers more capable of competing and improving their job conditions because it will decrease exploitation in employment, and raise new standards for the treatment and conditions of workers in the country. The BCHR calls on the concerned governmental bodies to back up their decision by taking responsibility for the consequences of the transition period by way preserving the rights of all work parties, including employers, and by avoiding the negative consequences of this change on the prices and the living standards of Bahraini citizens.
The ruling on sponsorship will force companies - especially in the construction sector - to seriously rethink the way that they treat their labourers. Under the new system, if, say a Pakistani construction worker arrives in Bahrain to work for a construction company and finds that he is forced to live in a squalid and unhygenic accomodation and his employer fails to pay him the wage agreed on in the contract he can quit and find a job elsewhere. As BHCR points out, this will put pressure on companies to drive up their standards in order to retain their workers.