HRW slam Bahrain ministry over workers' rights

Labour Ministry accused of failing to enforce the law

HRW accused Bahrain's Labour Ministry steering workers into system that favours employers
HRW accused Bahrain's Labour Ministry steering workers into system that favours employers

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticised Bahrain’s Labour Ministry for ignoring rogue employers who violate labour laws and mistreat migrant workers.

The international NGO has called the Ministry to task for letting employers get away with withholding wages and passports, practices which appear to be rampant, said HRW deputy regional director Joe Stork.

“Bahrain portrays itself as a regional leader in migrant labour rights, but the government has some way to go before it really earns that reputation. It should start by actually enforcing its own law,” he said in a public statement released today.

HRW made the statement following an investigation by Construction Week into the case of Muhammad Naseer, an Indian national who ran away from his Bahraini employer after allegedly not being paid for nearly four months.

Nasser filed a complaint with the Labour Ministry, which helped him retrieve his withheld passport from the sponsor, but said he would need to take his case to the courts to retrieve his outstanding wages.

Under the current arbitration system, an employer can force litigation by refusing the Ministry of Labour’s request to settle. Faced with a lengthy and costly court procedure, Nassar chose to waive all legal claims against his employer in exchange for his passport and authorisation to leave the country.

Stork said the case illustrates that there is no system in place to ensure vulnerable migrant workers can recover their wages, let alone punish abusive employers.

“Instead of enforcing the law, as it is authorised to, the government steers workers into an arbitration system that favours employers,” he said.

Meanwhile several other workers for the same sponsor have told HRW and CW that they are still owed three months' wages. The Labour Ministry has previously said the workers must file individual complaints before it can take action.

It is not known whether the sponsor, Ahmed Al Haddad of Handmade Interior Contracting, was prosecuted for withholding Nasser’s passport.

The Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS) spokesperson Marietta Dias said the practice of withholding workers passports is widespread and she has never seen an employer prosecuted for the offense. She added that authorities also rarely prosecute employers for withholding payments.

A spokesman for the Labour Ministry was not available to comment.

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