After several years of the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) imposing fees on the hiring of foreign workers, many business owners still complain about the added expense. The LMRA currently charges BD200 for a work visa application or renewal and BD90 for a dependents’ visa. In addition to this, companies must pay BD10 a month for every foreign employee. This adds up to around BD440 in fees every two years for each expat worker.
Business owners have been holding demonstrations in front of LMRA over the past year to protest these fees. They say that the added expense is greatly affecting their businesses. One of the protesting business owners, Hisham Mattar, spoke to DT about the hardships he is facing as a result of such fees.
“Our business is bleeding because of the fees. We, as business owners, are deeply disappointed by the LMRA. We do not see anything positive from what the LMRA is doing.”
“We have already approached the LMRA several times but it looks like they have a hidden agenda. We feel like they don’t care about us at all.” Mattar believes that many businessmen feel the same way and more than 1,000 signatures have been collected in a petition to take legal action against LMRA. “We have also sent several letters to the chairman of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce and we have met with several international labour regulatory experts.” Speaking to DT, Corporate Communications Manager at the LMRA, Waheed Al Balushi, explained the reasons behind the fees.
“When a study was conducted years ago on why many Bahrainis are unemployed, it turned out that many business owners preferred to hire foreign workers because they cost a lot less compared to Bahrainis. This prompted us to steadily increase the fees so that the cost of hiring a Bahraini and a foreigner would be almost the same.” When asked what all these fees are used for, he stated: “The fees are pooled into the Labour Fund. 80 per cent of the collected fees are given to Tamkeen to help in the training of Bahrainis and providing support for Bahraini businesses.”
“These fees are not taken by the government, they are helping a lot of Bahrainis.” When asked about the issues faced by the protesters, he said: “There are cases where the LMRA can do something and there are others where we cannot do anything.”
“The fees are laid down in the law. What the LMRA is doing is merely implementing the law… All we can do is suggest the rate of the fees, but even that has to be approved by the Cabinet.” He added that amidst all the complaints received, none of the businesses have actually presented any evidence to prove that they have been negatively affected by the fees.