The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. In January 2022, the government reinstated the National Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons (NCCTIP) after a one-year hiatus and reported the committee planned to create a new national action plan by the end of 2022. In December 2021, the government, in collaboration with two international organizations, launched the first training of the trainers program at its Regional Center of Excellence and Capacity Building for Combating Trafficking. The training targeted first responders, including those in media, healthcare, aviation, and labor inspection, as well as shelter supervisors, judges, and prosecutors, to become capable of sharing expertise on victim identification and train others in their field.
Article 23 of Bahraini Law No.19 of 2006 prohibited “for any person to receive any moneys or obtain any benefit or advantage from an employee in lieu of issuing him a work permit or in return for the employment of such an employee or his retention in his job.” During the reporting year, PPO received six cases of such violations for prosecution. The LMRA continued to oversee the issuing of licenses and regulation of recruitment agencies through quarterly inspection visits and other measures. For example, the government continued to require all recruitment agencies to submit a security deposit equivalent of 10,000 Bahraini dinar ($26,530) that would be forfeited in the event the company violated employees’ rights and required each employer to provide workers accommodation that met the LMRA’s standards. The LMRA’s PID inspectors conducted recruitment agency inspections and monitored for employment and immigration violations. The LMRA increased PID personnel by 45 percent during the year to expand the number of workplace inspections; PID shut down 26 unlicensed agencies and referred them for civil prosecution. PID also rejected the renewal of three agencies’ licenses and canceled four applications for violating LMRA’s terms and conditions. Furthermore, the LMRA referred nine cases for criminal and civil prosecution under the anti-trafficking law and the labor law identified through workplace inspections during the reporting period. In coordination with CID and MOL, PID inspectors also conducted four inspection visits to labor camps; PID referred one case of forced labor to the PPO for further investigation from these inspections. In May 2021, the government launched its Wage Protection System (WPS) for private sector workers. Under the WPS, employers were obligated to pay wages electronically to workers via financial institutions authorized by the Central Bank of Bahrain. The government designed the system to alert the LMRA to instances of non- or delayed-payment of wages with violators subject to penalties and legal action. The government implemented the WPS in three phases, with the third and final phase launched in January 2022 to encompass any employer with one or more employees; all employers were given a six-month grace period from the start of their phase to implement WPS regulations. Employers of domestic workers were not required to enroll in the system; a total of 24 employers had voluntarily registered to pay domestic workers through the WPS at the close of the reporting period. While the government stated employers who failed to comply with the WPS would be fined and barred from receiving work permits, NGOs expressed concern that WPS penalties against violators were weak thereby reducing the incentive for an employer to comply. NGOs reported officials still preferred to mediate WPS wage disputes between the employer and employee, rather than hold the non-compliant employer accountable with penalties. Non- and delayed-payment of wages continued to be common practice; the LMRA reported it received 2,097 claims of unpaid wages from workers during the year.
The government continued to implement its Flexi Permit program, whereby foreign nationals could reside and work in Bahrain without a visa sponsor, thereby reducing the power imbalance between employer and employee inherent in the kafala or sponsorship-based employment system. Migrant workers who retained a valid visa were eligible to enroll in the program without the consent of their employer after the termination or expiry of their work permit. The Flexi Permit cost 432 Bahraini dinar ($1,150) for one year and included a work permit, health insurance, a refundable deposit for travel tickets, an extension of residency timeframes, and waived immigration fines incurred while the worker was undocumented. Since its inception in July 2017, the Flexi Permit has reportedly regularized thousands of undocumented workers. Successful Flexi Permit applicants could work any full- or part-time job with any chosen employer—including multiple jobs concurrently with various employers—and were able to directly negotiate wages and working hours; however, some categories of migrant workers, most notably domestic workers, were excluded from eligibility. While the government had twice temporarily extended eligibility of the Flexi Permit to domestic workers who left their employers or had expired work visas (most recently in the amnesty period concluding in December 2020) and has stated that Flexi Permits could be given to domestic workers on a case-by-case basis, the government did not report giving any domestic workers a Flexi Permit during the reporting period.
Some NGOs and labor rights organizations continued to express concerns that the Flexi Permit was not a suitable alternative for low-income workers who may not be able to afford the high cost of the permit and in some cases must find work to pay for the visa, thereby possibly perpetuating the cycle of debt “bondage.” Rights groups also expressed the need to ensure protections for Flexi Permit holders; as holders who work on a freelance basis or in short-term employment are not required to have a contract with their employer, and rarely do, heightening their vulnerability to wage disputes or other issues related to temporary employment with a temporary employer without protection under the labor law. Furthermore, because Flexi Permit holders are not categorized as “employees,” the labor law does not offer them protection. Flexi Permit holders cannot file grievances or complaints with the labor courts as other workers covered under the law could; rather, Flexi Permit holders could only file cases against employers in civil courts. Additionally, a migrant worker could not apply for a Flexi Permit before arriving in Bahrain. A worker was only eligible for the program once their visa expired, their contract ended, or they were undocumented—which continued to put migrant workers in vulnerable situations where their sponsor or employer was tied to their legal immigration status when first arriving in the country. Since 2011, the government allowed private sector migrant workers freedom to change jobs without their employer’s consent after one year of employment; during the reporting period, 14.65 percent of Bahrain’s migrant worker population changed employers. However, the LMRA still had to approve the transfer. Domestic workers did not have the ability to change jobs or extend their residency visas without employer consent. The government reported all workers were able to terminate employment at any time, with a notice period according to their contract, and leave the country permanently without employer consent. However, reports that employers continued to expect employees to procure an exit permit suggested low awareness of the policy.
Articles 19 and 40 of the Labor Law established limited protections for domestic workers, which include agricultural workers, home security guards, nannies, drivers, and cooks who work for the employer or family members, requiring employers to provide a labor contract specifying annual leave and bonuses and that such workers must be paid at least monthly. However, Article 22, which prohibited contract switching or changes to preset work conditions outlined in the contract, was not applicable to domestic workers, effectively increasing their vulnerability to forced labor. Labor inspectors were unable to conduct unannounced inspections of domestic workers’ accommodations and investigate allegations of abuse in the absence of an official complaint, which may have left some victims at risk of exploitation and without protection. The LMRA continued to disseminate to all registered recruitment agencies in Bahrain copies of the standard labor contract, which required domestic workers to sign, prior to their arrival, a comprehensive work agreement that outlined labor rights and employment obligations. The contract aimed to strengthen protections for domestic workers by requiring employers to disclose duties, hours to be worked, salary, rest hours, and weekly days off. Domestic workers, brought into Bahrain by recruitment agencies, were able to accept or reject an employment contract in their respective countries of origin, and the LMRA maintained copies of signed contracts to assist in any future labor disputes. The LMRA maintained streamlined processes for obtaining initial visas and visa renewals for domestic workers. The inclusion of domestic workers in the Expatriate Management System, along with all other expatriate workers, increased the LMRA’s oversight capacity by standardizing the application process and retaining all worker-employee documents on the LMRA’s electronic systems. However, NGOs expressed concern that the standard contract lacked mandatory working conditions as it remained up to the employer to determine working hours, minimum wage, and rest time. In contrast, title seven of the labor law stipulated a maximum daily limit of eight working hours for other private sector workers. Additionally, NGOs noted that many vulnerable domestic workers whom they encountered did not know the contents of their contract due to language barriers. Furthermore, domestic workers rarely had a copy of their contract in their possession. NGOs also reported that because it was not compulsory to use a recruitment agency to recruit a domestic worker, those who hired domestic workers directly did not need to provide a standard contract. Instead, the government required a pledge of the employer’s obligations toward the domestic worker, which is not enforceable in a court of law.
Bahraini law did not explicitly prohibit passport retention, even when the employee objected from the practice. The government reported that instances of passport retention were generally prosecuted under Article 395 of the Bahraini penal code as a “breach of trust,” though such prosecutions were rare. Instead, passport retention was frequently handled administratively, when migrant workers filed a grievance for passport withholding with the police, the MOLSD, or the LMRA. When handled by the LMRA, instances of passport retention were reportedly screened by trained GPD staff for indicators of trafficking. Representatives of labor-source country embassies reported cases handled by LMRA resulted in expedient and fair disposition of cases. A worker could also register a complaint to the court directly if the employer refused to return the passport; however, in most cases, once the LMRA, MOLSD, or police approached the employer, they returned the passport to the employee and the worker chose not to pursue criminal charges against the employer. The LMRA reported it received 3,899 claims of passport retention through the NRM and retrieved and returned 3,702 passports to migrant workers in 2021. Police generally did not consider passport retention to be an indicator of trafficking, instead considering it stolen property if the employer refused to return the passport. Officials stated if the employer refused to return the passport to the employee, the LMRA could prohibit it from obtaining new or renewing existing work permits and could refer the employer to law enforcement for legal action. Officials referred one case of passport retention—identified by MOI’s hotline—for criminal prosecution during the year.
The government also made efforts to prevent vulnerable migrant workers, including domestic workers, from further exploitation by ensuring pandemic-mitigation measures were accessible, regardless of residency status. The government reported the LMRA’s PID, the Ministry of Health (MOH), and the MOI coordinated 27 field campaigns to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by conducting visits to migrant workers’ accommodations to administer vaccinations and booster shots for workers, specifically for those who were reluctant to visit hospitals to receive vaccinations due to their legal status. In partnership with an international organization, the government announced plans to launch a campaign in 2022 to raise awareness on migrant worker rights, but it had not yet launched it by the end of the reporting period. During the previous reporting period, the LMRA launched a website (endtrafficking.bh) featuring information on trafficking and resources for foreign workers; however, NGOs reported key information on the website was only available in English, limiting its application. The LMRA continued to provide booklets outlining labor rights in 13 languages common among expatriate and migrant worker populations and distributed them to such populations upon their arrival at the Bahrain International Airport and at the LMRA when applying for initial or renewed residency cards. The EPC’s trafficking hotline collected reports and educated workers about their rights and available services in nine languages 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The government advertised the hotline’s number and mandate through pamphlets given to each migrant worker upon arrival in Bahrain and on the LMRA’s social media platforms and website. The government reported the LMRA’s trafficking hotline received 13,006 calls during the year; however, no trafficking cases or victims were identified through the hotline. The government continued to uphold memoranda of understanding with several labor source countries, including Pakistan, that focused on oversight of recruitment agencies and protection of migrant workers in Bahrain. The government reported it partnered with an international organization to create orientation programs for migrant workers but did not report if it began implementing such programs by the close of the reporting period. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by continuing to enforce the law that makes prostitution illegal. The government provided anti- trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.