Bahrain’s Al Wefaq is not against expats: Vice chairman


“Bahrain has an expat-oriented labour market. We have to ensure that some change takes place, with regard to balancing the demographics. This does not mean all expat labour ought to be retrenched,” Marzooq told the Tribune in an exclusive interview.


“The number of locals is not adequate to replace the expat labour. We are looking at a few thousand hands being added to the market annually. I am sure there is some space for this. The expatriate labourers, of course, will fill the rest. In such a situation it is essential to offer jobs and promotions that promote fair competition in hiring local and expatriate labour.”


On foreign investments, he said Al Wefaq was studying the laws governing foreign investments. “We want the laws to be more open and transparent. It will be in the Kingdom’s interest to have a law that protects foreign investments in addition to striking a balance with the local trade, commerce, investment and labour.


“Foreign investment and technology coming into Bahrain must be welcomed along with creating a liberating environment within the Bahraini law. Al Wefaq wants that the investments coming into the country should be a means to generating more employment and taking the country forward. We’d not be interested in a rapid flow, with the opening of the markets. When the investment and technology flow into the country it must be in a median mode so as to be able to absorb the local capabilities. Laws should ensure the labour market equilibrium.”


Marzooq felt that there ought to be a transitional phase that involved educational programmes to ensure that graduates were trained for jobs as soon as they completed education instead of waiting for ages. Support for small and medium enterprises is important for funding and strategic planning. Training is also vital to acquire and upgrade skills and be competitive in the market.


“When the market is liberalised, redundancy follows. But Bahrain is not ready for such a shock. It is important to let the flow be in waves so that the labour force is trained to cope with the requirements of new jobs the new industries arriving in the Kingdom will offer,” he added.


Marzooq said there must be a strategic planning before Bahrain decided to import foreign technology and welcome investment. The government must have an interim plan as part of its efforts to open the market and liberalise the economy. The arrival of new investment must ensure this. It is important to train the labour force and help them adapt to technology.


“This way we can find jobs for the locals,” he said.


According to him, it is also important to develop new skills. “We expect companies coming in will help in this aspect. The country can only qualify the entry of new investments when the local population is ready to take on the challenges of the new technology.


“The laws on investment security are capable enough, however, special courts need to be set up. It is essential to ensure transparency in the deals, and easy availability of information on the country’s financial policy.”


Referring to free-visa workers, Marzooq conceded that the construction sector depended on them. “The companies which rely on free-visa workers are the ones that are violating the laws, because they know that their employees cannot complain. It is important to remember here that Al Wefaq is against free visas because they negatively affect the labour market.”


He said housemaids and construction workers should be seen as labourers helping the country and be treated accordingly.


Asked why the number of cases of improper treatment were increasing, Marzooq said the offenders did not belong to the ordinary. They belonged to “their own world”, because even Islam is against atrocities.

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