practice area articles
By Gordon Barr, Ghazal Hawamdeh, Laya Al Hareeri, Zahir Qayum and Roxanne Vesuvala
Back to International Employment Law
KEY DEVELOPMENTS FOR 2020
Changes to laws relating to foreign workers
Changes to existing laws have been passed in order to provide additional protections to foreign workers. For example, employers seeking a work permit for a foreign worker must not have abused their employees or otherwise failed to fulfil their rights, including payment of wages. In addition, employers are required to register and update their employees' data with the Labour Market Regulatory Authority on a regular basis and will be required to pay wages in accordance with the wage protection system (see below for further details). The fee imposed on foreign employers for issuing or renewing a permit to practice a professional activity has now also increased to 500 Bahraini Dinars.
Implementation of wage protection system
The implementation of the wage protection system had been the subject of much discussion in recent years. In accordance with Resolution No. 68 of 2019 on the Wage Protection System (which will be implemented in stages), employers are obliged to pay wages through providers authorised by the Central Bank of Bahrain. These authorised providers are required to disclose to the Labour Market Regulatory Authority certain information relating to an employer's workforce immediately after the deposit of wages, including employees' names, wages, dates of payment and employees' and employers' account numbers
Pregnant employees prohibited from working in hazardous environments
The Minister of Labour and Social Development issued Resolution No. 84 of 2019 prohibiting the employment of pregnant women in a number of hazardous conditions, including workplaces where there is exposure to extreme heat, continuous physical exertion, harmful vibrations and exposure to radiation, bacterial infection and certain other hazardous materials. It also obliges employers to take necessary measures to protect the health of pregnant women and the foetus more generally where there may be a danger to them as a result of the work performed by the employee.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS FOR 2019
New requirement for health insurance cover
The Health Insurance Law No. 23 of 2018 requires citizens, residents, and visitors to Bahrain to have health insurance cover from January 2019.
An insurance subscription will need to be taken out with approved health insurance providers for the appropriate level of cover for each category. This will be set out in a package relevant to each category of an insured person, e.g. a Citizens’ Package for a Citizen; a Residents’ Package for a Resident; and a Visitors’ Package for a Visitor. The government will pay the subscriptions for Bahraini citizens and employers are required to pay for the subscriptions for expatriate employees.
Criminalisation of sexual harassment in the workplace
In December 2018 the Bahrain Labour Law was amended making it unlawful for an employer or a worker to abuse or sexually harass a worker in the workplace by any means whatsoever, whether verbally or physically. The penalty for abusing or harassing a fellow worker is imprisonment for up to one year, or the payment of a fine of up to BHD 100. If the employer or its representative commits the harassment, the penalty is imprisonment for at least six months or payment of a fine of between BHD 500 and BHD 1,000.
The amendment stops short of imposing obligations on employers to take positive steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. However, it is recommended that employers should have an anti-harassment policy in place and a robust complaints redress mechanism to avoid any suggestion that they endorsed or were even complicit in the harassment. Employers that have an existing policy framework and complaints mechanism should review this to ensure that it is sufficiently broad to cover the species of harassment conduct that could fall within the scope of the amendment.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS FOR 2018
New Flexi-Work Permit
On 7 July 2017, Decree No. 108 of 2017 introduced a Flexi-Work Permit for expatriates in Bahrain. The Flexi-Work Permit allows eligible expatriates to work and live in Bahrain without being sponsored for a work/residence permit by a local employer. Flexi-Work permits must be renewed every 2 years and cost BD 449 (approx. USD 1,190) per application/renewal plus a monthly fee of BD 30 (approx. USD 80).
There is no direct impact on employers. However, employers can engage expatriate workers who possess the permit on a flexible basis without having to sponsor them for employment.
Activities Forbidden to Foreign Employers
The Labour Market Regulatory Authority (“LMRA”) issued Resolution No. 17 of 2017 regarding occupational activities that foreign employers are prohibited from practicing without permission from the LMRA. Foreign employers are prohibited from engaging flexible hospitality employees and flexible employees in general.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS FOR 2017
Flexible work permit
The Bahrain cabinet announced in September 2016 a proposal for a new “flexible” work permit. This is expected to be launched in 2017, to allow workers who have overstayed their visa to legitimately work for multiple employers for up to two years. The permit would be limited to workers who have overstayed as a result of being exploited or abused by their employers. It will cost USD$80 (BD30) per month in addition to a one-time fee of USD$530 (BD200), but will not cover employees who fled from their employers or who are alleged to have committed serious offences. It also cannot be used by expats to leave their current employers. The permit will enable workers to take up temporary jobs in all sectors except those that require professional licenses (such as nursing and engineering). It is intended that the applicant for the permit will act as his own sponsor.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS FOR 2016
Granting Bahrain Electronic Visas to Nationals of Specified Countries
Appendix 1 of Ministerial Decision No. 197 of 2014 was amended by Ministerial Decision 15 of 2016 and came into effect on 4 January 2016. Previously, citizens of 102 countries were able to obtain Bahrain Electronic Visas. The new decision now allows for citizens of 113 countries to obtain Bahrain Electronic Visas to enter for tourist or business purposes only.
The additional countries are:
- Côte d’Ivoire;
- Mauritius; and
- The Seychelles.
This visa is separate from the requirement to have a work permit.
Additional fees when Bahrainisation percentages are not met
Resolution No. 27 of 2016 came into effect on 29 April 2016 and states that an employer who does not meet Bahrainisation quotas is now required to pay BHD300 (in addition to the regular fees for renewing or issuing a new visa). This additional fee will not apply to employers who comply with the Bahrainisation applicable percentage. The Labour Market Regulatory Authority (“LMRA”) will collect the fees in proportion to the required work permit / visa validity period. The fees will apply to the renewal of work permits from 30th April 2017.
Medical checks for expatriates
Resolution No. 12 of 2016 came into effect on 11 May 2016. Medical check certificates for working expatriates are issued by the private health institutions licensed by the National Health Regulatory Authority (“NHRA”). Private health institutions are required to notify the public health committees of the medical check results, who further notify the LMRA. The public health committees will observe and supervise the medical check results that are conducted by private health institutions and shall have the authority to request the files and medical records to ensure compliance with procedures stipulated by the Ministry of Health.
If the private health institutions decide that an expat is unfit to work, or that he is carrying an infectious disease, the private health institution is required to notify the public health committees within 24 hours from the results date. In such event, the employer must ensure that the employee is taken to the public health committees for re-examination.
Issuance of visit visas to GCC residents
Decree No. 61 of 2016 amends Decree No. 4 of 2010 and allows residents from other Gulf Co-Operation Council (“GCC”) countries to enter with residency validity of three months. Prior to this, the residency validity requirement was six months.
No deposit / personal guarantee requirement for foresign employees
Decree No. 117 of 2016 repeals Paragraphs 1(c) and 2(c) of Decree No. 74 of 2007 and effectively cancels the requirement for foreigners and retired foreigners who had previously worked in the government or private sectors in Bahrain or any other GCC country for 15 years to maintain a deposit.