"Labour Minister Majeed Al Allawi on Monday said Bahrain would implement a new labour law on August 1 that allows foreign workers to switch jobs without their existing employer's consent. 'This is the end of the sponsorship system, which does not differ much from slavery,' the minister said.
"The new law, a major demand by human rights activists, allows foreign workers to move to new jobs simply by informing their existing employers of their intention to end the contract. The notice should be made through registered mail and according to the timeframe stipulated in the employment contract, but must not exceed three months.
"'The new employer will then register the worker with the labour authorities, but he or she will have to produce the end of contract notice sent to the former employer,' Al Allawi said."
The business community is finding reasons to oppose this, of course, so there might be delays or adjustments in final implementation. From the article, it sounds like Bahrain is taking this step now hoping to promote nativization in the work force. If guest workers gain more rights and can start improving their conditions, there will be less incentive for companies to prefer them to Bahrainis.
Seen from this angle, however, the trick will be whether unemployed Bahrainis will accept many of the jobs traditionally done by guest workers, or whether their expectations will still exceed what guest workers would ask for. Ending the sponsorship system doesn't resolve the split labor market or the understandable preference of many Bahrainis to take advantage of their generous welfare state.
(Crossposted to American Footprints)