GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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The political dimension of the labor market reform in Bahrain
Paper Proposal Text :
Mass unemployment has become an important political issue in Bahrain since the 1990s, when the oil glut correlated with the demographic boom rendered inefficient the government’s traditional labor market regulation policy of recruiting nationals in the public sector while leaving the private free to employ relatively cheap expatriate workers. With the political liberalization launched in the 2000s, the unemployed have organized themselves into committees. They form one of the backbones of some opposition movements which have been the most radical in their demands, notably al-Haqq which, during the 2011 uprising, asked for a full regime change in favor of democracy.
In order to defuse the threat, the government has tried to implement a rather original employment policy, launching in 2006 its “labor market reform”. The reform allowed it to gain the support and full cooperation of the mainstream and to date biggest opposition movement, al-Wifaq, which was transformed into a coopted opposition force. The trade-unions, in particular, played an important role in monitoring the implementation of the reform in the purely private sector. On the other hand, the reform has shaken the old coalition between the ruling Al Khalifa family and the oligarchs who control the private sector, who were infuriated by the rise of the cost of expatriate labor entailed by the reform.
The 2011 uprising turned these unprecedented political dynamics upside down. Indeed, one of the first moves of the ruling dynasty was to suspend one of the fees on expatriate workers it had imposed in the framework of the reform. The fierce repression of the protest rendered any cooperation with the opposition impossible. Trade unionists were sacked. As other GCC countries, Bahrain seems to return to old rentier reflexes, promising state subsidies instead of pressuring the private sector to accept to change its old habits of relying on cheap expatriate labor.