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'Death' of business mourned

HUNDREDS of irate traders took part in a mock funeral procession yesterday to protest against a foreign worker tax, which they say is killing their businesses. They carried a coffin symbolising the death of their business as they marched from the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) to the nearby Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), in Sanabis.

More than 250 small and medium business owners were involved in the demonstration, which took place just a day after protesters voiced their concerns and held up banners during a meeting with officials from the LMRA, Tamkeen and the BCCI.

"The talks we had on Monday didn't get anywhere - people were fed up and many left (the meeting) because they were just talking. There is nothing in reality," protester and Lion Construction Establishment general manager Hisham Mattar told the GDN.

Yesterday's protest was the latest in a series of demonstrations by business owners against a BD10 monthly tax on every foreign worker they employ.

Some claim the fees, which are collected by the LMRA, have already forced them to close shop.

Among those at the funeral march were MPs supporting calls for the tax to be suspended.

"We are the ones sacrificing. They (the LMRA, Tamkeen and the BCCI) should do something for us, but they aren't doing anything and say they won't do anything about the BD10 - but we will continue to try."

Business owners have been campaigning against the tax since it was introduced in July 2008.

It applies to every expatriate working in Bahrain and is collected by the LMRA on behalf of the government.

It is used by Tamkeen to train Bahrainis for the workplace, create jobs and support local businesses.

However, Mr Mattar said the protesters were angry because they thought Tamkeen was not supporting businesses in trouble.

"We are against the fee and demand it to be cancelled," he said.

"We are not against Bahrainis getting an education and training, but it shouldn't be at our expense, we should not be the victims of this.

"The BCCI is supposed to represent us and they are not doing their job," he said.

BCCI chief executive officer Ebrahim Al Lengawi responded by claiming the private sector would benefit from the fee in the long term, but said he understood smaller companies had been affected.

"The BD10 fee is still new and we need to see how it goes at least after five years," he said.

"SMEs (small and medium enterprises) have been affected, but we will see the benefit in the two or three years down the road when Bahrainis will be able to take a bigger role in small organisations.

"We won't see results fast, it needs time. We support the SMEs, but always there will be an adjustment time."

Meanwhile, Tamkeen claimed in a statement that it was transparent in reinvesting 80pc of the LMRA fees collected in the development of the private sector.

It said it had invested in projects and programmes worth more than BD150 million to support local businesses, including offering grants and easy loans to entrepreneurs; proving e-tendering training for 1,000 companies; supporting female businesswomen; and paying for 42 training and development programmes.

"Our portfolio of investments through projects and programmes we are committed to have reached more than BD150m," said the statement.

"Tamkeen would like to take this opportunity to reassure the private sector that the money received from the LMRA fees is invested in programmes designed and launched within a clear strategy to serve the dynamic needs of the labour market and the private sector." becky@gdn.com.bh



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