Persian Gulf States Table of Contents

Bahrain's total labor force was estimated at 160,000 in 1992. Foreign workers constituted about 55 percent of the labor force, a slight decline from the 58 percent they had constituted in 1981. Foreign participation in the labor force increased dramatically after 1971, when such workers had constituted 37 percent of the economically active population. The composition of the foreign work force also has changed significantly. During the 1960s, more than one-half of all foreign workers came from Oman and Iran. Since the late 1970s, one-half of all foreign workers have come from South Asia, predominantly from India and Pakistan but also from Bangladesh, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. South Asian workers constituted 13 percent of the total population in 1990 and Iranians, 6 percent. Less than 10 percent of foreign workers come from other Arab countries. Egyptians, about one-half of whom teach in Bahrain's public schools, constitute the largest group of foreign Arabs, followed by Palestinians, most of whom hold Jordanian passports, and Lebanese. Arabs are more likely than Asians to be accompanied by dependents.

The government requires all foreign workers to possess valid residence and work permits. Although work permits are renewable after the expiration of the original contract period, authorities do not encourage long-term residency of foreign nationals. Most of the foreign workers, who are unskilled and semiskilled laborers, have few incentives to live in Bahrain permanently because their families generally remain in their native countries. These workers consequently remit a considerable portion of their employment income to their families in their countries of origin.

As the proportion of citizens declined to less than one-half the labor force, government planners drew up specific programs and laws designed to replace foreign workers with Bahraini nationals. Within the private sector, which provides jobs for more than two-thirds of all foreign nationals, employers have the option of designing their own special courses for training citizens or providing funds to finance government-operated training courses. Companies pay a special levy, equal to 4 percent of the salary of every employed foreigner but only equal to 2 percent for every local employee. At the completion of a foreign worker's contract, officials of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs urge the hiring company to take on more nationals.

Efforts to make employment indigenous encourage the participation of women in the labor force. Women, who constituted about 15 percent of all employees in the early 1990s, work outside the home in far greater numbers in Bahrain than in any other state of the Arabian Peninsula. The most dramatic rise in female employment occurred during the decade of the 1970s. Between 1971 and 1981, the proportion of women in the labor force increased from 3.8 to 13.3 percent. Bahraini women predominate in such traditionally female occupations as teaching and nursing, but, since the early 1980s, increasing numbers of women have been employed in administration, banking, commerce, finance, engineering, and the civil service. Despite the trend toward greater female participation in the work force, about 82 percent of Bahraini women do not work outside the home. The overwhelming majority of working women tend to be single women who work for two to five years after completing secondary school or university and before marriage.

In an effort to encourage continued participation of women in the labor force after marriage, the government has enacted labor legislation favorable to working mothers. For example, all employers are required to grant new mothers forty-five days of full-pay maternity leave plus fifteen days at half-pay. In addition, employers are obligated to provide nursing periods for new mothers. The law also forbids discrimination against working mothers.

More about the Economy of Bahrain.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress