By Suad Hamada (Our correspondent)

10 February 2008

MANAMA — Bahrain is negotiating with some Asian and African governments to open new markets for foreign manpower, after India and the Philippines fixed the minimum wages for their workers. Bangladesh is expected to follow suit.

India has fixed BD100 as minimum wage for domestic workers and moves are afoot to increasing the wages of other labourers.

The Philippines, on its part, has fixed BD150 as the minimum wage for its citizens.

“We are exploring new markets and Vietnam and Nepal could be our choice as a developing country, such as Bahrain, needs reliable foreign manpower at a reasonable cost,” said Jameel Humadan, Assistant Undersecretary in the Ministry of Labour.

The Indian Embassy has imposed some restrictions on hiring |Indian |workers, such as approval from the embassy.

Bahrain's move to seek new markets came after businessmen and recruitment agencies urged the government to devise mechanisms to overcome the recommendations made by the embassies of some of the manpower-exporting countries.

According to statistics released last week by Bahrain's Central Informatics Organisation, migrant workers represent 49 per cent of the population.

Indians form the majority of foreign manpower as 40 per cent of them are post-graduates and are working in medical and banking sectors as well as major companies, while the rest are in lowly-paid jobs.

“The embassies’ new rules are affecting our businesses, especially imposing minimum wage systems and costly paperwork procedures,” the owner of Al Hubil Recruitment Agency, Abas Redha Al Basri, said.

According to him, domestic workers and labourers from India and the Philippines are against the minimum wage system.

He claimed Filipina maids had begun to accept to work for only BD60 after they learnt that no one would hire them for BD150.

Al Basri said that Sri Lankan manpower was still in great demand in different sectors as, besides their skill, they came for lesser salaries than other workers.

He revealed that the demand for Ethiopian workers was high.

The President of Bahrain Construction Society, Nedham Kamashki, said the minimum wages system was the one-sided decision by the governments as there were still thousands of Indian labourers who want to come to Bahrain at old salaries.

Al Kamashki called upon certain embassies to work with the government of Bahrain to solve the free-visa problem before imposing minimum wages.