Human Rights Watch criticized the Bahraini Labor Ministry today for not enforcing Bahraini law against employers who withhold wages and passports from their migrant workers. Instead of helping the workers to recover their wages, the government directs the migrant workers into an arbitration process with their employer. Since poor migrant workers can't afford a protracted and costly legal battle and lack of income, many of them choose to settle their disputes with their employers on unfavorable terms, knowing that otherwise the case would be passed on to the labor court system.
The HRW report highlighted the cases of Muhammad Naseer, an Indian worker who was left unpaid for nearly four months. When he approached his sponsor asking for his passport back so he can return to India and find a paying job, his employer refused to give it to him. Naseer then lodged a complaint with the labor ministry, but in the arbitration process with his sponsor, he was told that he could either start the costly litigation process, or take his passport and leave, without his unpaid wages. Naseer chose to return home while 28 other workers at his company are still owed wages for three months. The company attempted to make workers sign documents affirming that they have received all their salaries, but they refused. According to an employee at that company, when one worker confronted the sponsor about this, the sponsor attacked him. In another company that sponsors foreign workers, eight workers are owed wages for five months of work. And as we've previously reported, two weeks ago 38 Indian construction workers held a protest for being unpaid for the last five months.
Marietta Dias of the Migrant Worker Protection Society said that the practice of withholding passports is illegal, and yet widespread in Bahrain. She added that authorities very rarely persecute employers who withhold wages or confiscate passports from their workers.