Interdependencies

3 Jul, '07

I found this really sad:

An Indian man, who had life-saving brain surgery at the Salmaniya Medical Complex (SMC), has gone missing, it was revealed yesterday.

The guy most probably needs further medical attention but because his stay in Bahrain has become illegal and he obviously continues to want to live and work here (maybe doesn’t have a choice but to do so) and as he knew that the hospital administration is required to hand over illegal aliens to the authorities, he chose to escape, even in his condition.

This is just sad and demonstrates the desperation that migrant workers get to in this country. Look at the current vehemently opposed law which requires outdoors workers to down tools for several hours at mid-day, although the construction barons oppose this law because they are looking after their bottom lines, it appears that some of the workers themselves are against this law because they will lose on the opportunity to earn some overtime pay.

These labourers generally cost contractors around BD1 (US$2.65) per day – this includes their pay, accommodation, sustenance, clothing and even end of service annuities and travel back to their countries. A large contractor I know – who employes some 6,000 of these labourers (the figure above was from him) – suggested that the forced siesta in July and August translates into additional costs which would lead to “huge losses for the country”. I think that statement is a gross over-exageration, but I agree with his suggestion that the forced break should have been based on the apparent temperatures rather than specific months in the year; otherwise, he argues, that all outdoors workers should have been included in the ban, including the police, drivers, etc.

That is just one example of the migrant workers’ suffering. The government has stepped in to protect them and naturally it found some resistance. I am not sure whether the government also considered the lost earning opportunities to the very people they are trying to protect, though.

On the positive side, this situation actually sets a long needed precedent, inadvertently – I grant you, but a good precedent – in that if laws were left to the business owners, they generally will take care of themselves first and foremost and some will do whatever is required to ensure a fatter bottom line at the expense of his or her employees. Therefore, standards must be set by governments which should encourage businesses to rise to a new level, then move the bar still higher and get them to catch up once again. This, if managed correctly, can improve our country’s competitive and efficiency standards which will be good for everyone.

What pushes government to put up these standards is either the community or a requirement to abide by international treaties and external pressures. Evidence of this is present aplenty, especially in the last few years. Look at the public outcry in the various environmental and political issues it have faced, in each one of those situations the government has had to respond by generally bending to the pressure and making good moves to respond to the demands.

The government now should continue to raise the bar and encourage businesses and the community to rise to the challenge. How it does that must be through complete transparency and accountability and the insurance that it will only select contractors based on non-traditional metrics like employee care, environmental and social responsibility. This will of course mean that the government itself will cease to base its contract award decisions on the lowest bidder principle and will accept that the cost of its contracts will necessarily be increased. That increase will only be justified (and encouraged!) if the company invests some of its profits back into its employees benefit programs as well as within the community.

The knock on effect of these programs are manifold; one of their benefits is situations like Mr. Arumugam’s would start to disappear.

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Comments (6)

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  1. NewMe says:

    the problem with policies and procedures is the fact that it lacks the human factor… only nepotism and wasta work in such conditions and with this Indian… i have to say: Good luck man!!! Mahmood,,, this is really sad!!!

  2. Skeptik says:

    Actually the Minister of Labour hasn’t yet issued an order at all.

    GDN reported wrongly, based upon the verbal advice given by a clerk/secretary at the Ministry.

    There is no ban yet and everyone is waiting to see exactly what it says.

  3. Bob the Builder says:

    although the construction barons oppose this law because they are looking after their bottom lines,

    In fact, the main problem is that it will make projects finish late and the Government and other major clients will then take penalties from the Companies concerned.

  4. billT says:

    Mahmood What you have been posting about workers in Bahrain is the same as what happened leading up to unions being formed in the US. Im not fond of unions but workers need rights and protections if countrys want to continue to grow and it seems much better when a country gives workers the rights and wages without unions being formed.

  5. mahmood says:

    Bob, I don’t share your view in this. My view is that left alone, businessmen the world over will try to fatten up their margins as much as possible with very few thinking of any philanthropic pursuits be those with their own workers or family. The few that do, should be most certainly held up as an inspiration for others to follow.

    In order to progress the economy of the country, government should set and enforce higher standards all the time; this will push businesses to be more efficient and ironically that push will ultimately create more profit and subsequently jobs.

    What we have so far is a national economy which is built on the lowest bidder.

    This is a very dangerous trend and will force a lot of businesses to ultimately close as they will not be able to compete, which will result in job losses and a deteriorating social environment.

    If the government put metrics into their contract awards which include things like “Human Rights Index” which is given by an independent body to “rank” an organisation and takes into consideration the workers’ accommodation, food, medical health facilities, transport, safety and security, education and training and another one which benchmarks an organisation on their community and social responsibilities and those metrics are used by the government to give better companies priority in the awards AND allowing them to have their bids accepted even if they are some 5 – 10% higher than their lower ranked competitors, I think we will see a huge shift in the human rights and social responsibility to the better in a tangible sense.

    The preferential treatment is already in place in Saudi and it works; however, that protection is available to give local Saudi companies preference in bidding against all foreign companies. Bahraini companies are regarded for the most part foreign. I am told that Saudi companies can be up to 20% more expensive than foreign companies and they will win bids. In Bahrain – generally – foreign companies are given preference in most circumstances, but that is another issue as the dynamics there are different. The main thing which I am bringing attention to is that preferential treatment is already within the culture so putting a “good” dynamic on it shouldn’t be all that difficult.

    The key to all of this is the government setting a higher standard, and enforcing that standard requirement evenly across the board. Once that become accepted, then raise the bar again and get everyone to play catch-up again.

  6. Yvonne Dettwyler says:

    are there no labour laws in Bahrein for, construction workers, catering staff, restaurants, hotels, housemaids, cooks, cleaners minimal salaries, max salaries, bonus, working hours? Employers as well as labourers, employees checked if law is applied. Health insurance covering medication, treatment etc.Proper work contracts,regular paymnent, decent accomodation, as stipuated in contract?

    Non comforming employers ought to be punished by the Government/Ministry of Labour. Their extra expenses no excuse. A rich country like Bahrein applying/adhering to such
    laws, would improve the country’s standing amongst the other Arab countries labour markets. Foreign labourers- and employees would feel/protected and appreciated as human beings.And this poor Indian could have stayed on in hospital, What a tragedie, most unfair.

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