Bahrain now requires migrant workers reported as “absconders” or “runaways” to pay for their own repatriation costs. Lawmakers amended Law No. 19 of 2006 on Regulating the Labour Market last week. The amendments also require migrants’ family members to bear the cost of repatriation of deceased migrants who were reported as absconders. If this request and the corresponding payment is not made within 30 days of the migrant’s death, their bodies will be buried in Bahrain.
The new law codifies what is currently common practice: though employers were previously legally liable for repatriation costs in all cases, they often and easily circumvented this responsibility. Even in detention centres, absconding migrant workers are asked to pay for their repatriation costs. If workers are unable to fund their return, embassies and charitable organisations are asked to step in. Similarly, embassies and community groups often take on the high repatriation cost of deceased workers.
Absconding complaints are heavily misused by employers, who often report workers as runaways in retaliation of disputes. Exploitative employers can push migrants to leave the workplace, as there the legal means to change employer are highly restricted.
Bahrain’s Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) warned that the new legislation would lead to an increase in irregular migrant workers because employers would misuse absconding complaints to avoid paying workers’ return airfare. The LMRA also stated that the regulatory authority can verify if a migrant has legitimately absconded from work only through a judicial decision.
On the other hand, Bahrain’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) enthusiastically endorsed the new legislation. In a memorandum to the Council of Representatives the BCCI noted: “it is necessary for the “runaway” [migrant] worker to take responsibility for absconding from workplace illegally without the employer bearing the responsibility of this negative and illegal act issued by the worker”