Bahrain’s Central Investigation Department’s (CID) Anti-human Trafficking and the Protection of Public Morals Directorate recently launched a new hotline (17710652) to report cases involving sponsors charging migrant workers to transfer sponsorship and change jobs. According to the statement, such acts “violate legislations, especially the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) Law and its rules.”
According to the CID, legal proceedings will be taken against violating sponsors in coordination with the LMRA. However, it is unclear whether these cases will be considered criminal or administrative offences, and which laws - anti-trafficking or labour - these proceedings will fall under.
With the exception of domestic workers, migrant workers are allowed to change sponsors without their employer’s consent after completing one year of work, or when their work permit is terminated. Domestic workers require their sponsor’s consent to change jobs in all circumstances. Civil society groups including MR have documented several cases of domestic workers whose sponsors demanded money to change employers, even after completing their contract.
Charging employees for visas and visa transfers is systemic and made possible by the Kafala system, which gives the sponsor the power to issue visas and no-objection certificates required for sponsorship transfer. A hotline is unlikely to do much to combat a problem that is part and parcel of Bahrain’s labour migration system.
The issue is also not limited to the transfer of sponsorship alone. MR has documented several cases where employers have charged workers for the return of their passports, removing runaway cases, or keeping work permits valid. Despite these pervading problems, the country recently retained its Tier 1 status in the US State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report for the fourth consecutive year.
In our previous report on Bahrain’s TIP ranking, we noted that Inaccurate evaluations can risk concealing ineffective and superficial initiatives that do not meaningfully combat trafficking. While Bahrain’s recent reforms have been a step in the right direction, the realities on the ground are at odds with the qualifications for TIER-1 status. Read the report here.
Some international observers have also already praised the new hotline. It is critical that observers correctly evaluate such initiatives based on their implementation on the ground, instead of taking the government’s statements as given.
The CID stated that the hotline is being introduced following recent reports that some employers have been charging money from migrant workers who want to change jobs in Bahrain.
While this is a move in the right direction, there are few points that observers should keep in mind:
- It is unclear if the hotline is available in multiple languages to accommodate all migrant workers in the country. Previous cases documented by Migrant-Rights.org show that migrants face language barriers in their interactions with Bahrain’s Central Investigation Department.
- There is a vast gap between existing initiatives on paper and facts on the ground. The practice of charging workers money for the transfer of jobs is common in Bahrain, and MR alongside other civil society groups in Bahrain have documented many such cases that were brought to the attention of the LMRA, only for the latter not to take any strict action against the sponsor.
- The government is yet to raise awareness about the hotline; many migrant workers in Bahrain are still not familiar with the basic hotlines available to them due to a lack of awareness efforts.