Brief thoughts on the job market and its reforms

3 Jun, '07

‘can we talk’ said in a comment:

meanwhile the guy who took the burger-flipping job for peanuts has long moved up to a better paying job

This is as good an opening as any to re-open the labour and job situation in Bahrain, so let me start with this:

I talked to two businessmen last week about the job situation in Bahrain, both had the same opinion:

“we are ready to pay taxes, pay fines, establish a ‘General Organisation of Fly Castrators’ or ‘General Organisation of Counting Rice Grains’ or whatever; just put all those Bahrainis which the Ministry of Labour is throwing at us in those organisations and we will pay the monthly salaries of BD200 a month and will not require them to punch-in and punch-out; just give us the opportunity to employ whomever we want who we can hold responsible for their performance and fire when warranted – but don’t force this stupid ‘Bahranisation’ on us. We are not charities.”

A third businessman who owns a factory told me another story:

We employ over 100 people, we give everybody the chance to learn if they want to, and then find the appropriate position for them if that position wasn’t predetermined. We also embrace and promote those people who excel.

Let me give you an example: several years ago we employed a tea-boy from India. He couldn’t speak Arabic nor English, he was completely illiterate: couldn’t read nor write. We paid him BD40 a month. He was diligent and poked his nose into everything, asked questions and slowly, over a period of a year he learnt to read and write enough to get by, he also knew exactly where every nut and bolt and other stock’s locations in the store. He got to be faster than the old storeman and better, now a few years later, he is the full storekeeper and is earning many times what he earned when he started.

Another example: we hired a Bengali as a general dogsbody on the factory floor and he got lost between the other bodies. We almost forgot we had him, until we noticed that he learned how to use a very technical machine and excelled at producing works of art with it! The customers started asking for him by name (the person who did that piece, and that sort of thing)! That was just 9 months from the minute he stepped onto the factory floor! He is now regarded as a full artisan and is being paid handsomely, many times that what he started with.

Final example, and a symptomatic one, unfortunately: we had a Bahraini driver; he takes the workers to the site, comes back after dropping them off and just sits around smoking, drinking tea and making jokes with his co-workers in the factory until he has to bring the workers back at the end of the shift to their accommodation.

I approached this fellow Bahraini and advised him to make use of his time; try to learn what goes on here, try your hand at helping those people at that machine so that you can learn.

He just looked at me, rose with a lot of grumbling and said to other co-workers that “they only pay me BD150 for being a driver and want to squeeze the life out of me and use me in other jobs as well!”

I called the guy back and explained the situation to him, I told him: “look, regardless of your presence, the factory will run. If you are sitting here smoking and drinking tea, the factory will run. If you are sitting in the car reading magazines and making phone calls, the factory will run. If you are here or not here doesn’t really matter, the factory and our work will not stop. We are not dependent on you. If you didn’t understand why I asked you to put your hand at something else it was for your benefit, it is so that I can justify increasing your salary and helping you learn a trade. Do you want to live the rest of your life as a driver?

Needless to say, the driver continued to be a driver, but no longer with that factory.

Unfortunately there are a lot – an awful lot – of people like the third person. Of course there are many who are like the first and second too, but the numbers who equate with the third kind are many, unfortunately. And I can give you many more horror stories that I have experienced personally.

Why that is? Lethargy, deficient self-worth, frustration, poverty, and not bothering with education are some of the problems faced.

Still, if you read a bit more into the new Labour Reform packages soon to be implemented and the stages and targets they have, you have to lift your hat quite high for the perpetrator of these changes. I truly believe that at last the problems have been identified and being tackled courageously and that’s why we should support them.

You will notice for instance that labourers and drivers are not the main target of these reforms, at least not in the first phase. Those will come. The biggest change that that package will introduce is the employers’ ability to hire and fire based on performance, regardless of nationality and gender. And it is this – in particular – that will ultimately force the Bahraini worker to re-evaluate his and her position and become more productive. Believe me when that happens, we will rule the world, because – ironically – we are not lazy, we just needed that huge chip to be knocked off our shoulder!

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Comments (23)

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  1. um naief says:

    you know Mahmood, i have seen exactly as stated above over and over again. there’s something about ppl not wanting to work when they know they can’t be fired. the drive disappears or was never there in the first place, so they are protected and feel no need to better their lives.

    i think this is a great thing that is being implemented. i can’t wait to see all the riots that take place once it is…. kidding here… but i wouldn’t doubt it a bit.

  2. Butterfly says:

    الثلاث آراء واقعية وصحيحة. العامل البحريني يجب ان يثبت نفسه من خلال عمله لا من خلال قانون يجبر صاحب العمل على توظيف البحرينيين. شخصيا أعرف بعض اصحاب المؤسسات الذين أمتثلوا لقرار وزارة العمل بتوظيف نسبة معينة من البحرينيين وتأثرت أعمالهم واحيانا تعطلت بسبب تقاعس هؤلاء البحرينيين وهناك مصانع محلية أغلقت للسبب ذاته. لست مع اي قانون يرغم صاحب أي مؤسسة بتوظيف اي جنسية معينة سواء كان بحريني أو غير بحريني، فوزارة العمل لن تعوض هؤلاء في حالة خسارتهم

    العمالة البحرينية الغير منتجة موجودة في مختلف القطاعات والمستويات ولكن الشكاوي التي ترد من أصحاب العمل عادة ما تكون من البحرينيين ذو التعليم المتوسط (الثانوية العامة ومادون ذلك).

    برأيي ان هناك علاقة وثيقة بين الحالة الاجتماعية ومستوى التعليم والرواتب لهذه الفئة، فحينما ينجب ابوان أميان عدد كبير من الاطفال يكون مصيرهم التشرد والتسرب من المدارس واى مدارس؟ مدارس البنين الحكومية التي معظمنا يعرف مستوى تدني الالتزام والمراقبة فيها ثم ينتهي الأمر بهؤلاء الابناء الى ترك الدراسة والبحث عن عمل فماذا هو المتوقع؟

    من يريد توظيف شباب لا يحمل حتى شهادة الثانوية العامة ويفتقد حتى الى ابسط اسلوب اللياقة في التعامل؟ وفي المقابل يطمح هؤلاء الشباب للعمل وتكوين أسر وبالتالي فأن رواتب المائتين دينار لا تفي أحتياجاتهم أو احتياجات الزوجة التي عادة ما تكون من المستوى التعليمي والاجتماعي ذاته

    أكثر المؤسسات البحرينيية بما فيها الشركات الصناعية الكبرى تشكو من تسرب البحرينيين من خريجي الثانوية العامة من العمل بعد شهر أو أثنين رغم ان تدريبهم قد يستغرق شهور طويلة وقائمة الاعذار لا تنتهي فاما الدوام مبكر او ان العمل شاق او ان الراتب ضئيل. لقد اعتاد هؤلاء الشباب على نمط معين من الحياة بدأ منذ تسربهم من المدارس .. الاحساس بالمسئولية شبه معدوم ولا يمكن ان يولد بين يوم وليلة

    ثم تأتي بعض الشخصيات التي تغذي هؤلاء الشباب بالتحريض والتصوير لهم بأنهم ضحية الفساد السياسي والاداري في البلد فيخيل لهم انهم فعلا ضحية وان الحكومة مسئولة عن بطالتهم وبالتالي مسئولة عن توظيفهم بأعلى الرواتب. هناك فساد وهناك نهب لموارد وخيرات هذا البلد ولكن المشكلة ان الجميع يفكر بأن له الأحقية في هذه الكعكة عوضا عن التفكير بأن هذه الخيرات المنهوبة هي حق مسلوب وان ضرر الفساد يطال الجميع لا فئة معينة

    هؤلاء الشباب فعلا ضحية ولكنهم ضحية الجهل وتخلف المجتمع ورداءة التعليم و الطائفية السياسية

  3. S.O.S. says:

    My company hired a young Bahraini kid that just graduted from U of B for the position in our accounting department. He had been through 6 months of training with various banks prior to joining us but had no actual work experience. This guy is a very hard worker, is not lazy at all and is very eager to learn. There is one major problem however which is the fact that this guy graduated with a very high GPA yet is very limited in his knowledge of accounting. Isn’t this what he was trained to do? What good is a degree if very little is being learned? It really makes me question the quality of education at U of B and if this one situation that I have experienced in the work place is common?

    Of course the company making an effort to get this guy trained and up to speed but it just seems like an accounting graduate would be able to function in an accounts payable post without a year of training!

  4. Salman says:

    S.O.S

    Academic experience is far different from practical and on job experience.

    I studied cars in high school. Many could memorize the automotive technology book, and pass the exam with high marks, some even full marks. Come Tuesday and Wednesday, when its practicals, they have no clue on what to do and how things work. And that is because everything in the exams is straight forward and direct.

    As a graduate, i hold the degree with academic knowledge, but i do not have experience in the actual field. It takes time, and with time, he will excel. You also have to be patient. You did not learn to read and write after the 1st day you came from school, or did you?

  5. doncox says:

    Remember that those people who are prepared to travel to another country, or even another continent, to find work are the most ambitious and motivated in their society.

    I would bet that for every keen, hard working Bengali who comes to Bahrain and makes good, there are fifty left behind in his village lounging around and grumbling.

    Likewise, it will be the cream of the people from the Arab countries who find their way to Europe or the US and build their careers there.

  6. S.O.S. says:

    Salmon,

    That’s my point. Shouldn’t the universities be teaching on a more practical level? Rather than just presenting students with multiple choice exams every few months and those with good memories pass with flying colors, studies should simulate the actual work environment. Like you said, your automotive class included actual hands-on work which is the ideal scenario. I have a feeling that those situations are very limited in the local universities.

  7. mahmood says:

    Salman, you’re being pedantic. You cannot compare car design or maintenance with something so theoretical as accounting! If the guy graduated in accounting then he should bloody well be able to handle the accounting jobs he is given; whether that is preparing a consolidated balance sheet or simple accounts payables budgeting and forecasting.

    If this situation is in fact true – that the guy “graduated” from the UoB and required basic accounting principles training, then someone should install a “flush” button on the whole department which allowed him to graduate, high GPA or not.

    Do I blame the UoB for this? Of course I do. I also blame them for allowing anyone regardless of academic achievement in high-school to get in. This waters down the end result and once again entrenches the “easy” attitude that just because the person is a Bahraini, then he should automatically get a university education.

    Any wonder that the first thing an employer now does is completely ignore any achievement by an individual from the UoB?

  8. Just me says:

    I think we’ve all got sick to death with the stories of lazy bahrainis, especially from businessmen. I am not denying this, there is a problem with general work ethos and poor attitudes. From an economic perspective (away from ‘pub talk’, or ‘gahwa talk’) this is a problem of general market signalling, incentives and pricing. It’s all well and good to complain about the secretary who wants a day off every week to go to a relative’s wedding, but when the problem seems to be pervasive then one must look wider and deeper into the issue.

    One of the cornerstones of the McKinesy report was to increase the mobility of the expat labour force by removing the requirement that they only work for their official sponser ie allow the migrant workers to work and resign as they wish. This is one of the main reasons why salaries are kept artificially low, simply because the migrant worker has no choice when he comes to Bahrain other than to work at the employer’s given wage. The minute this system is overhauled by allowed migrant workers to move around, the market will free up, average wage will rise and then the Bahraini will be able to truly compete with the migrant. That way bahrainis become ’employees of choice’ and compete on a level playing field.
    Unfortunately the private sector knows the cost of this suggested policy and have lobbyed against it, it has failed to be implemented. The report cited that this is a fundamental reform

    Labour market standards need to be raised across the board and regulated for all employees. Air-conditioning is a human right in the summer. Someone made a ridiculous comment before about how contemptful it is that Bahrainis only want ‘air-conditioned employment’; well thats obviously throws health and safety standards out of the window when average temperatures are in their late 40s over the summer (as I understand its fuming now already) and workers are expected to work outdoors.

    So the incentives Bahrainis have
    – are reduced because of the massive cost differential with migrant workers
    – are reduced because of difficulty of terminating contracts because of bahrainisation policy
    – are reduced because of a lower ‘survival need’. The indian teaboy on 40BD per month who is legally tied to his employers, seriously has to work his pants off or threatened to be sent back on the first plane home. This is no excuse for a Bahraini not to work hard, but the cost differential will always lead the employer to feel the indian is more value for money.

    Bahrainis should be employees of choice rather than employees of force. But that will never happen under the current system where 2/3 of labour market in the private sector are asian migrant worker. The whole system needs to be overhauled with a combination of labour market reform, economic reform and educational and training reform to meet labour market needs. In addition to some kind of welfare system which the quote mahmood has used above eludes to; that maybe if employers are taxed, they can pay for some kind of welfare system where the ‘lazy bahrainis’ can enjoy the comforts of their home rather than burden them in the workplace under the ‘bahrainisation’ scheme.

  9. can we talk says:

    If this situation is in fact true

    this guy is not the rule. and i wonder if he actually has graduated with a bachelors in accounting or if he just has a diploma in accounting, which would be equivalent to the first half of a degree. diploma students often refer to themselves as university graduates so this might be the case?

    as you know the majority of students today study inside bahrain, only a minority get to go abroad. out of the graduates from local universities, which is therefore the majority of graduates, UOB graduates are considered by employers and recruiters to be the best prepared for placement and their resumes are placed at the top of the pile. i am talking about business graduates with bachelor’s degrees, which includes accounting students. some of them are recruited by international companies for employment abroad.

    a few years ago, an amiri decree guaranteed high school students with grades above 70% a place in the university, along with reducing the fees, so a lot were admitted which would not have been normally. but most of those did not graduate, some left with a diploma, some flunked out, very few of them survivied.

    now, they are back to selective admission and have their own admission exam. students who are not good enough to get a place in their specializations of choice are offered a place in the applied college. now, they complain because they dont want to go there.

    we cannot be a society where everyone is a university graduate, the only result if that happenned is that you would have masked unemployment (i.e. everyone would be overqualified for their job). the alternative would be that we would export employees to the rest of the world, or the gulf at least, but most of our people dont seem to be willing to do this.

  10. Yousif says:

    You all fail to look at this issue from the prospective of well qualified and ambitious Bahrainis.

    I always wondered, why do businesses pay well qualified locals far less than those from other countries. It’s as if there is absolutely no confidence in the local workforce. I’m not going to name names but there is a particular company I know that has branches all over the GCC and they pay Saudies substantially more than those in the Bahrain branch even though the living costs here in Bahrain are much more than that in Saudia and the employees have the same qualifications and experience.

    Especially applicable to multinationals and corporations, Bahrainis are wrongfully looked at as cheap labor (هنود الخليج) and then these corporations complain when we try enforcing some regulations on their recruiting practices. I think they need to change their mentality.

  11. Yousif says:

    Sorry if I seem harsh but come to think about it, your attitude Mahmood and the attitude of businessmen in Bahrain is probably part of the low wage problem if not the main reason. You are basically promoting the acceptance of slave wages instead of at least looking at this phenomenon with reprehension.

  12. The Joker says:

    Flip side of the argument is, an employer would hire his niece’s cousin’s bestfriend’s brother over the more qualified candidate, and then bitch and moan about bahrainis not being dedicated or smart or whatever.

    If you have horror stories about lazy bahrainis, and I do believe you 100%, I have equally unpleasent stories about underqualified bahrainis assuming positions through wasta, in VERY sensitive offices. The whole system needs fixing. I hope Mcenzie goes through.

  13. Barry says:

    That driver sounds like he has incredibly poor work ethic.

    There is one major problem however which is the fact that this guy graduated with a very high GPA yet is very limited in his knowledge of accounting. Isn’t this what he was trained to do? What good is a degree if very little is being learned?

    There is a difference between memorization and application, of course. My university has what we call asessments meaning that in most classes, you are required to complete a project which shows you know what you had learned. This was also important in our final course, Capstone (called that because it is the “capstone” of all courses) which required us to put together some sort of project showing we could use technology and resources to analyze and present a topic to the department for our major demonstrating knowledge of ou subject. All majors do this, and they actually put out some fascinating projects. Business majors would have to complete a project such as a business plan, or some sort of analysis.

    That doesn’t mean of course that it’s going to be retained for everyone, but a lot of the graduates here have gone on to do very well in their careers.

    As for the job itself, I know this varies, but do Bahraini employers have probationary periods? It’s common here in California for people to be put through a probationary period to be evaluated for job performance. If you can’t cut it, you get terminated. Passing probation means it’s more difficult to fire you, but you still can be if you dont know what you’re doing, but probation is designed to determine that. Also, do Bahraini employers do annual or monthly job performance reviews?

  14. mahmood says:

    Yousif, your comments were marked spam for some reason, I have resurrected them now.

    It’s as if there is absolutely no confidence in the local workforce.

    From my own perspective which is probably reflected in other business owners as well, the biggest things is the inability to terminate the dead wood’s employment, the mandatory employment of Bahrainis regardless of qualifications and the bad work ethic in the low end jobs only. When you add the really antagonistic labour laws and how the courts are biased almost always toward the employee rather than the employer all add to the really bad soup created by these laws and situations.

    Remove them and I can bet you anything that you want that within 10 years the perception will change completely.

    Like others, I’ve had my fair share of unfair verdicts levies against me: I fire a Bahraini employee because he threatened to kill me (I swear to God I’m not joking) and he leaves and takes me to court and wins BD3,000 “in compensation for wrongful termination plus benefits”. Another guy, I fired because I can no longer justify his employment (never reached his targets) who was English takes me to court and gets 3 months’ termination fee although the condition of termination was in his contract, another Bahraini I employed as a salesman who never bothered to sell I fired and, yes, again taken me to court and got money for it. So much so that I have decided now willfully not to bother growing!

    I’m happy to stay a small businessman, selling by myself with the minimum staff and concentrate my sales efforts where they are appreciated, Saudi and Kuwait rather than Bahrain and I’m doing well enough since making that decision!

    It is unfair to label businessmen and women for this situation; yes, maybe some of us are to blame, I do not deny that, but the majority just want to eek out a living and stay in business.

    Don’t let me start on the other part of the story of the iniquitousness and very unfair practices in Government tenders which the majority of businesses here depend on.

    All of that needs reformation. Therefore, I am very happy to pay the BD600 a year or whatever it is that they decide on on the provision that I can hire and fire whomever I want whenever I want with justification.

    If Bahrainis want to find work, let them compete on the level playing field provided.

    One has to wonder why not many complaints (of this sort) are actually being made by middle- and top-placed Bahraini employees.

  15. Ali J says:

    I hope Mcenzie goes through.

    Does anyone know when this may happen or has it been scrapped already?

  16. mahmood says:

    I don’t think it has been scrapped. I read somewhere today that the fees have been approved by the cabinet but I can’t find a reference yet.

  17. Romster says:

    IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME.
    The government does not hold the responsiblity of getting people jobs. The gov. should invest in infarastructure to get the guys to the work place. Instead of spending money on studies, spend some on :
    -Transportation system to industrial areas.
    -Build more power stations so that we don’t have to wailt for 3 years to implement expansion programs.
    -Spend more on “on the job training” instead of useless vocationa schools.
    …….
    Let us start a fund where “self unemployed” Bahrainies can hang out all day without work and get paid, if this will get us a real work force. The business is booming and we are not able to catch up with any 3rd world country because of forced labour shortage.
    Expansion is the name of the game today. Labour REFRMISIM was born dead.

  18. exclamation mark says:

    IS there any link for the Mckenzie Report ?

    Or the summary of its findings ?

  19. Anono says:

    Mckenzie Report

    stop asking about it. It’s a money laundering operation. sheesh

  20. um naief says:

    The Joker,

    I saw the same as far as a friend’s cousin’s sister being hired – or whomever – and they had no experience whatsoever… but it didn’t matter. Every day resumes were coming in w/ very qualified individuals.. but because you get friends being hired and relatives… there’s no chance in the more qualified candidate being hired.

    And I’ll add this… just because someone has a college degree doesn’t mean they know anything. i can not tell you how many times I had to do school work for ppl at my office. Every day I’d get something. it got to the point that I was expected to read the book and answer all their questions, write their reports… you name it, I was expected to do it. Until… I finally said no. then they didn’t like me any more. I guess that’s prob why my contract wasn’t renewed….. or some such.

  21. can we talk says:

    what has happenned to your letters? first poveryand then thoughs

    ilkubur shein

  22. mahmood says:

    ee walla ee walla ee walla ya Hsain, ee walla ilkubur shein indeed!

    thanks for the heads up, duly correcte with thanks 😯

  23. Ali J says:

    I have been told it is coming into effect on 1 st January 2008

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