7th APRIL 2015 - Vol.XXXVIII No.018
Local News

Businessmen take protest to parliament

BUSINESSMEN who claim they are being led to bankruptcy as a result of "crippling" Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) fees yesterday took their fight to parliament.

Around 40 people demonstrated outside the building, saying it was their last chance to attract the attention of the authorities.

The men, all owners of small and medium enterprises, said many of them had been forced to close several businesses and whatever they had left was in default of the BD10 per worker monthly fee.

"We are not in a position to pay the fee any more - we have not been in a position to pay for several months now but no one listens to us," said cargo and contracting business owner Waheed Al Yousef.

"Two years ago, before the LMRA fee was implemented, I had 100 people working for me and we were all very happy and prosperous.

"Now, I have only 16 left and they too are in dire straits because I am not able to look after them the way I did."

Mr Al Yousef said businessmen were also angry at having to pay BD200 every two years in visa fees for every expatriate employee.

The BD10 monthly fee applies to every expatriate working in Bahrain and has been collected by the LMRA on behalf of the government since July 2008.

Businessmen began protesting a few months after the fee was imposed, claiming its imposition was unfair and would result in many businesses shutting shop.

"If the imposition of the fee was streamlining the labour market and for market reforms in a bid to stop the free visa business, this has clearly not helped," said Mr Al Yousef.

"If at all, there are many more free visa workers in Bahrain now than were there two years ago."

Mr Al Yousef said he volunteered to take LMRA officials to "free visa dens" but officials declined.

Redha Al Jabbal, who has a construction and electroplating business, said labour market reforms had not ebbed the tide of the free visa trade.

"We are now facing this problem more than ever," he said.

"Whereas we are expected to pay the BD10 fee, free visa workers are ruining the market."

Mr Al Jabbal said he did not believe the LMRA figures that there were only 40,000 free visa workers in Bahrain, saying there could be thousands more.

Arfi Al Mulla said only two of his seven businesses were left, as a result of the fees.

"At this moment, I have two left and those are also in trouble," he said.

"What am I supposed to do? Who will feed my family if I cannot? Why is no one listening to us?"

Nader Alawi, who ran a small advertising agency and employed a dozen men, claims he was forced to let all of his staff go.

"Even last year, I had seven people but now I am struggling on my own. I have lost my business, my workers, my money and my peace of mind," he said.

MPs Jawad and Jalal Fairooz, who joined the protesters, said they would take up the matter in Parliament.

"We have to ensure Bahraini businessmen are happy and prosperous. The government should give them a patient hearing and solve their problems," said Mr Jalal Fairooz.

MP Ibrahim Mohammed Busandal also sympathised with the protesters.

"These people are facing so many problems and no one listens to them or tries to solve their problems. We shall take up the issue in the house," he said.

"There has to be some way out of this situation."

A spokesman for the protesters later read out a statement addressed to MPs in which he said the impact of the global economic crisis was being aggravated by the fees. The group also called for a fund to support the business owners affected.

LMRA officials were yesterday unavailable for comment. [email protected]

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