Bahrain's Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) has recently announced that its Protection and Grievances Centre will now provide administrative support in filing civil lawsuits for migrants registered with the new “Labour Registration Programme”, following a joint initiative with the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments.
The “Labour Registration Program” was introduced on 4 December, 2022, replacing the Flexi-Permit scheme as part of wider labour reforms in the country. Under this programme, workers on irregular status and former Flexi-Permit holders can, for a fee, apply for a self-sponsored “vocational work permit” through private labour registration centres and work in designated professions without a sponsor.
In 2020, the LMRA established the Protection and Grievances Centre, a specialised unit dedicated to supporting migrant workers by compiling the necessary documents, translating them, and submitting them electronically to the labour courts. At the time, the unit did not extend support to self-sponsored workers, who operate outside the jurisdiction of labour laws; Vocational work permit holders are considered freelancers and are not categorised as private sector workers. As a result, the rules and regulations outlined in the private sector labour law do not apply to them. Therefore, if these workers wish to initiate legal proceedings in the case of a dispute, they have to file their case as a civil lawsuit rather than a labour lawsuit.
According to the LMRA, the administrative assistance to vocational work permit holders will include processing civil lawsuits at the request of workers, incorporating new requests such as updates to personal information and contact details, submitting relevant documents, and printing statements, decisions, rationale, judgments, or any other relevant documents related to the case. Additionally, the LMRA will offer the services of qualified translators proficient in the various languages spoken by the workers and a list of registered lawyers to hire and seek legal advice in disputes related to these cases.
Although a positive move, the effectiveness of Bahrain's civil code in safeguarding the rights of these workers remains limited. Barriers to justice persist even for migrant workers who are covered by labour law. These include sluggish court proceedings and the lack of resources that low-income workers have to cope with such lengthy timeframes, and the exorbitant cost of legal services that are beyond the reach of most low-income workers. Additionally, even if workers receive a favourable verdict in court, it requires significant time and resources to recover due compensation from the employer through Bahrain's executive courts.
The case of Abdulla H Al Derazi & Sons Co WLL illustrates the challenges workers face in accessing justice. Despite receiving favourable judgments in court, the workers are yet to receive their dues from the company. Furthermore, according to the Al Derazi workers MR spoke to, the labour court dismissed the cases of Flexi-Permit workers employed by Al Derazi company, citing their status as non-employees.
MR calls on the Bahraini government to extend the protection of labour laws to workers registered under the "Labour Registration Program" and enhance the support provided by the Protection and Grievances Centre by providing free legal aid through appointed lawyers and granting Power of Attorney. Additionally, the government should explore potential sources of funding to compensate workers whose employers are genuinely unable to pay their wages or expedite the process of settling unpaid dues through the executive courts.
For more on this topic, read our previous report on the LMRA’s Protection and Grievances Centre here.