After years of delay, Bahrain’s Ministry of Labour and Social Development (MOLSD) has announced the gradual implementation of the “Wage Protection System” (WPS) beginning 1 May 2021. The WPS mandates employers to pay wages via bank transfer.
According to MOLSD’s Resolution No. (22) for the year 2021, employers are obligated to pay workers wages using WPS through payment methods provided by those authorized by the Central Bank of Bahrain. The rollout will consist of three phases:
- The first phase will cover companies with 500 workers or more, this phase will be implemented on 1 May 2021.
- The second phase will cover companies with 50 to 499 workers, this phase will be implemented on 1 September 2021.
- The third phase will cover companies with 1 to 49 workers, this phase will be implemented on 1 January 2022.
A six-month grace period will be provided to employers to implement the WPS regulations from the start of each respective phase.
As is often the case, domestic workers who are among the most vulnerable to wage theft and unfair deductions, are left out of the WPS system altogether. However, according to the new regulation, employers of domestic workers can “voluntarily” opt for the WPS.
Bahrain is the last GCC country to implement the WPS. While this move is a step in the right direction, it remains unclear whether Bahrain’s WPS will be used to immediately alert labour officials of non-payment cases, or if it will only be used to enhance transparency and support the judicial authority in settling wage-related disputes.
It is important that the WPS does both functions as low-income migrant workers are often intimidated into working for months without their wages and systematically discouraged from filing complaints against their employer at the labour courts. (see: The life cycle of wage theft in the GCC).
It is also worth mentioning that contrary to official narratives around WPS, the WPS does little to “guarantee” wages or to stop the delays and unpaid wages on its own. Its limitations were particularly evident during the Covid-19 crisis (but even before) when WPS across the Gulf failed to flag cases of wage theft and protect workers’ wages.
Furthermore, reforms to the wider system are needed for the WPS to have a meaningful impact. There are thousands of migrant workers in Bahrain who were identified by the government and labour courts as victims of non-payment and yet were unable to recoup their owed wages due to employers terminating visas, filing absconding cases, inaction by the executive court, as well as lack of support to migrant workers awaiting judgements.
It also remains unclear if and how Free-visa workers and Flexi-Permit holders will be included in the WPS, given that many of them work for multiple employers or work as freelancers.
Migrant-rights.org previously covered key issues that Bahrain needs to consider when rolling out the WPS which could be accessed here.