58 security personnel were made redundant by the Seef Mall a few days ago in an effort for the company to be more profitable by out-sourcing security. The ex-employees were given an extremely fair severance pay (the last one negotiated was 6 months for every year employed by them, coming to some BD 22,000 in severance pay for the group, the members of which used to get between BD 200 to BD 250 per month if not less) but that was rejected. Their union is demanding severance pay equivalent to 5 years’ wages per person. The excuse given is that these people have loans and families to support.
The whole of Bahrain is in a tizz with this “issue.” Every paper has articles and editorials about it since this started. Members of parliament are “outraged” at the unfair dismissal, the the workers’ unions are giving interviews left, right and centre. The minister of Labour and Social Affairs is into the fray as well. He (or at least his Ministry) has given Seef Properties, the owner of the Seef Mall, the go ahead to outsource security to a private company, but now he’s coming out that he was never aware of this decision and wouldn’t have sanctioned it had he been aware of it. The company on the other hand has proof that he did know. And the games start.
Now, like with any issue in the past 3 or so years, the affected workers through their union have approached the King to force the company to hire them back. As if he’s not busy enough.
Can you now imagine the Vaseline jar or KY jelly being put to good use with the company bending over?
Right. This sums up the labour market in Bahrain. The worker has the ultimate power, no businessman or woman has the balls to fire a Bahraini. Even if you caught that Bahraini steeling from you, physically damaging your office equipment, selling your trade secrets, or even screwing your dog. Because if you do, then be prepared to be immediately sued for an inordinate amount of money.
You, as a businessperson, will be at the worker’s mercy. The very first thing this “dispossessed” person will do is lodge a complaint for wrongful dismissal with the Ministry of Labour, they will move the case to the Labour Courts and they in turn will slap you with a bill so big that it would be better for you just to up-sticks and close your shop, declare bankruptcy thus leaving of course more people out of work.
Welcome to the wonderful world of employing Bahrainis.
Do we have to? Have you heard of state controlled and sanctioned embezzlement and hostage taking? If you haven’t and you intend to do any kind of business in Bahrain, you soon will. It will be the stuff of your most virulent nightmares. Believe me, I have been having the same recurring nightmare for about 12 years. It is not a pretty thought I can assure you.
There is no way in hell that as a business, large or small, for you to get the correct employees you need for your survival, success and growth under the current stilted labour laws. I’m talking about Bahrainis here. Give a Bahraini the option of working for you and the interview will go like this:
1. How much you pay?
2. Not enough, how much more?
3. Ok, I’ll fink about it.
4. I only work morning. How many shift you have?
5. I only work morning.
6. How much you pay more?
7. What time start? I come between 9 and 12 ok!
8. You give me mobile.
9. You give me car.
10. You give me holiday 2 months every year.
11. Sometime I don’t come to work because period. (huh? You’re a man!)
12. I only get work when pregnant 3 months. Don’t show. I get maternal leave one year. Full paid. Then I leave ok.
13. I get mobile, yes?
14. How much you pay more?
Now take your pick, this could be an interview for a secretary, office boy, technician, whatever. Just change the language up or down to suite, but the essence is the same.
And the hidden thing in all of this of course is that after you do employ them, they will continue to try to find another job and will leave you even if the pay difference is 5 Dinars. And even while transferring to another job they will:
1. claim unfair dismissal.
2. sue your ass for the privilege or having hired them in the first place.
And do you think they will stay in that “greener pasture” long? No, they will continue to try to find another job, UNTIL of course they land a GOVERNMENT job! THIS my friends, is the ultimate for a Bahraini worker. They will be in their heaven when they get that and will hold on to it with their teeth until the day they die, and even after that, they will have had dibs put on their seat for their children, and their children’s children.
Why? No need for performance, evaluation, and a guaranteed lifetime of doing nothing. Add to that the fact that they will only work mornings, so almost all of them will get another part time job for the afternoons or start their own grocery, tailor, garage, or electronics repair/sale shop!
So why waste time even attempting to hire Bahrainis in the first place? Remember what I said about the government sanctioned extortion above? A businessperson CANNOT employ foreign staff UNLESS you have the token Bahrainis. So most small businesses at least just hire an office-boy/driver and with that you will get one visa (if you’re lucky, or have the right connections) to employ a foreign person you can depend on.
You’re expanding? You’re moderately successful so now you need to hire a secretary? Bahrainis only can hold his exalted position. Refer to “steps of successful interviewing” above. But pay particular attention to points 11 and 12 though, don’t get caught now, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
And you wonder why we have unemployment here? How can the private sector, which is the largest employer on the Island cope with this phenomenon? How can I as a small business owner employ an office-boy and pay him a comparatively good wage, higher than the national average for such a job, fire the stiff because he threatened my life (literally) and he not only walked away with it, but the court gave him 7 months’ salary as severance pay, a bonus because he worked for me for a few years, and pay his full social insurance which we are not eligible for anyway? Now repeat this story at least once every 3 years or so. Vaseline anyone? Anyone?
The unemployed don’t WANT employment. Why the hell should they if each and every one of them can “sell” his CPR (central population register) number to an employer for 100 Dinars or more and be a “ghost” worker, just for the privilege of this employer to get a work permit for a foreign worker? Just walk by the Ministry of Labour any day of the week and you will find them all sitting around, sometimes inside the ministry’s halls waiting to catch someone to sell their numbers to? This is a highly profitable fishing exercise! And if we do fall into the trap and do buy a ghost-worker we have to pay into his social pension fund as well!
- (I should probably explain the CPR thing. Every person in Bahrain must have a central population register number. This number dies with you and you need that card for conducting anything with the government, banks, anything. If you hire a person, that person has to register with the Ministry of Labour using their CPR card number and that number is cross-referenced to your commercial registration, so that the government knows how many you employ, who you employ and when you employed them. Why would a country that doesn’t have any taxes do that? Big brother of course.
So let’s say that you want to hire a Bahraini in order to really hire a foreigner. What you do is get an unemployed Bahraini to just register with the Ministry of Labour as your employee, then the Ministry will deem it correct to give you a work permit to hire a foreigner.)
More? Ok. A business cannot get ANY government contract unless they get a certificate from the Ministry of Labour certifying that your company actually employs the required quota of Bahrainis the ministry has set. In most business enterprises that varies between 25% to 75%, maybe higher.
Okay you are officially a good citizen and employ Bahrainis as a matter of course. You are patriotic and truly believe that you do good by not only employing Bahrainis but also train them, bring them into your business and give them responsibilities and make them grow with you. This can work and does work in some cases, but not in the small business arena. This only works for larger companies, banks, insurance firms and of course the great benefactor: the government.
For the small and medium enterprise this is fraught with untold danger. The sword will continuously hang over your head: if the person gets a slightly better paying job, he WILL leave. If the person gets a government job, he most definitely will leave, but if has stayed with you for a few months and learnt the ropes he will not only leave, but leave and start a business to directly compete with you, taking with him of course most if not all of your customers. This has happened, and in this environment and stupid labour laws will continue to happen.
The solution is so simple and staring the government in the face all the time that it boggles the mind why it is so difficult to grasp and enact. FREE the labour market! Remove all these hindrances to small and medium businesses. Invest Ã¢â‚¬â€œ really invest Ã¢â‚¬â€œ in effective training schemes. Radically revise the dilapidated educational system. And hold the workers responsible.
If as a business you absolutely NEED to fire someone, then ensure that the contractual agreement between the parties actually is respected, don’t come back and say that if the contract does not tally with the official contract template from the Ministry of Labour then it is invalid. What, did the guy sign a contract blindly, cannot read, cannot think for himself so that the government once again acts as the big brother here? If anyone signs a contract which is fair and correct, why force the government’s own version down your throat? If you fire someone, give him the correct severance pay, as dictated by the mutually signed contract, don’t even LET the bastard come and complain to you that he was wrongfully dismissed and demands 20 years’ salaries because his wife can’t keep her legs closed and now he has 19 children. Why the fuck should I care? I want a productive employee, I’m not running a child-bearing farm, nor am I a family planning unit.
Having said that, NO company is going to fire a good employee. It has invested time, money and a lot of effort into training the employee on the various aspects of the business, why go through all of that again if you don’t have to? We’re running businesses to make money after all, not squander and lose it.
Almost every day we get teachers, labourers, and even professional nose-pickers demonstrating because they can’t get jobs. In most cases it is not because jobs are not available, it is because they don’t WANT the jobs found and offered to them on a silver platter. It is because they are not flexible enough to do something else, it is because they want a government job, and it is because they want a hand-out. And they hold the business enterprises by the balls to get what they want.
Sure there are cases which are genuine. Sure some people are highly educated and cannot find jobs because of discrimination and other factors. I am all for that person and am aghast with disgust as to why a job cannot be found for them. But generally, ask any business owner about this situation and I can guarantee that if they are honest they will fully agree with me.
Minister of Labour, if you are in the mood to listen, then listen to this advice:
1. make your absolute priority in your office to find the fastest and best way to close your ministry. It is not needed. The best way to do that is for you to enable, encourage and harbour free trade and a free labour market. For the sooner you do that, the sooner businesses will boom and as they boom they will require more workers and the country’s main unemployment problem will dissolve. Trust me on this.
2. shut down the labour courts. They are useless and unnecessary. They are completely biased to the workers anyway and they (along with your ministry’s policies) are throttling business opportunities and FUTURE job opportunities for your armies of unemployed. If a just claim to wrongful dismissal is raised, then raise it in a civil court. And LOOK and STUDY the documents presented by the employer, rather than judges arbitrarily remove the soiled finger out of their proverbial ass, test the wind with it, and award a sum of money that will break the small business’ back, hence creating more unemployment. An even better option is use a tribunal. It does work in other countries.
3. invest in education. Throw all the current books away, let’s have a national bonfire, it will be a pretty spectacle. And then bring in real experts and real teachers to teach. If you have to close all the schools for a year or two to get that done then it’s not a problem, they’re not learning anything now anyway.
4. LISTEN to the business community. They are your friends. They are the people who are creating and maintaining jobs. They know what they’re doing and they know how important loyal and productive workers can be.
Back to the start now with those security personnel. The majority of the sacked workers have been offered jobs by the company taking over at the same or even better salaries. Get them to take it! It’s an opportunity which should not be missed. If they refuse, then fuck ’em. They will restart selling their CPR numbers anyway…
Here’s something that you should read, study and take to heart:
Opinions differ as to whether the economic success of Dubai can be replicated elsewhere in the Middle East. Delegations regularly troop through Internet City, and Egypt recently rolled out its own technology park, Smart Village, near Cairo.
But no other Arab society seems to possess quite the same readiness to throw its doors open to outside influences, coupled with the flexibility to capitalize on them.
“Dubai’s a complete anomaly, like Singapore or Hong Kong,” said Peter J. Cooper, editor of AME Business Info, a journal of gulf commerce. “Port cities have always been more liberal.”
Bahrain is a port country not just a city, or am I mistaken?