The Bahraini labor force in 1998 was estimated at 295,000, of whom some 44% were non-nationals. Employment by sector was as follows: industry, commerce, and services, 79%, government, 20%, and agriculture, 1%. Unemployment stood at 15%.
Although the constitution permits workers to organize, the government bans trade unions. With this absence of legitimate trade unions, no collective bargaining entities or collective agreements exist. Workers may express grievances through joint labor-management committees (JLCs). JLCs are generally created at each major company and have an equal number of labor and management representation. As of 2000, there were a total of 20 JLCs. There are no internationally affiliated trade unions, and foreign workers are underrepresented in the General Committed of Bahrain workers which coordinates the JLCs.
The government set minimum wage scales for public sector employees and this generally provides a decent standard of living for workers and their families. The minimum wage for public-sector wages were specified on a contract basis. All foreign workers must be sponsored by Bahrainis or Bahrain-based companies, which can revoke the residence permit of anyone under their sponsorship. Migrant workers from developing countries are often unwilling to report health and safety abuses for fear of forced repatriation. Nor do labor laws apply to foreign workers, who often work far in excess of official maximum hour laws. The minimum age for working is 14 years and until age 16, special work conditions and hour limits apply to workers. There is general compliance with this in the industrial sector, but there is rampant abuse outside it, especially in family-owned businesses.