A FOREIGN recruitment drive saw Bahraini firms employ more expats than ever during the 12 months leading up to the end of March, according to new figures released by the government.
A total of 71,000 foreign workers were hired since March last year, swelling the country’s expat workforce by 18.8 per cent.
Expats accounted for around two-thirds of Bahrain’s workforce by the end of the first quarter of this year.
Total employment stood at 596,224, up by 16.5pc from the same time last year, with foreigners holding 453,582 positions and Bahrainis making up the remaining 142,642, according to figures released by the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA).
Despite a growth of 9.8pc in the employment of Bahrainis from the end of March last year, Bahrainisation levels continued to decline due to the massive influx of foreign workers.
“The Bahrainisation rate continues its long-term decline, reaching 23.9pc in the current (first) quarter,” said the LMRA’s first quarter report.
“This decline was the result of the combination of an increase in non-Bahraini workers in the construction and trade sectors against an increase in Bahraini employment in the financial sector.”
The decline in Bahrainisation occurred despite the LMRA reporting the largest increase in Bahraini workforce since it began monitoring the jobs market.
“The annual increase in Bahraini employment was 9.8pc, the highest growth rate since LMRA started to monitor Bahraini employment, while the annual increase in foreign worker employment reached the highest rate at 18.8pc,” said the report.
A total of 34,463 new work visas were issued during the first three months of this year alone, up by 7.9pc on the same period last year, while 26,499 were renewed – an increase of 11.3pc.
Around 50pc of new visas were in the construction sector alone, with 12,719 going to workers or labourers, 2,211 to masons and 1,249 to carpenters.
Meanwhile, average monthly wages remained constant at BD307 compared with a year before – but Bahrainis working for the government continued to earn double than their counterparts in the private sector.
“The Bahraini median wages also experienced a slight increase to reach BD413 per month (BD570 in the public sector and BD 291 in the private sector),” added the report.
“Although the labour cost gap between Bahraini and non-Bahraini workers shrank for the first time in the preceding quarter (BD194 monthly in 2008 Q4), the gap has widened again in 2009 Q1, reaching BD202.”
Meanwhile, 1,815 jobseekers received benefits from the Labour Ministry unemployment insurance scheme in the first three months of the year, while the number of unemployed registered at the ministry was 5,034.
“The total number of job vacancies registered at the ministry was 6,413 at the end of March, representing an increase of 27pc compared to the previous quarter,” said the report.
Prices of consumer goods showed a slight increase of 0.3pc during the first quarter of this year, according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) compiled by the Central Informatics Organisation (CIO).
“The main sources of price increases remained food and beverages, household equipment, recreation and culture and personal care,” said the report.
However, it added an LMRA monthly survey – which concentrates on consumer items with high share of foreign labour input – showed a “significant decrease” with prices dropping by about 6pc.
It said this suggested that those items “are more sensitive and vulnerable to price changes than others”.