Tag Archives migrant-workers

Collective punishments

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There are a few things that suggest that our society is in a desperate state. The indicators are probably best exemplified by the exclusionary standards our parliamentarians and their electorate take. Both are quick to condemn whole peoples, nations and even civilizations due to isolated incidents without taking one second to reflect on our own shortcomings and our non-exclusive ownership of basic human values.

Some might attribute this collective psyche as a result of the insular lifestyle attributed to island communities, but the irony is that people of these islands until very recently were an awful lot more tolerant and receptive to other cultures than its current breed is.

What happened? Why is it that the more open to the world they get the more insecure they become? What could explain this other than in terms of a severe inferiority complex?

If you talk to Bahrainis fortunate enough to have lived in the 70s and before, they will categorically tell you that they have never experienced anything like this, they will confirm that they didn’t give their neighbour’s race or religion much importance. They will further tell you that they habitually interacted with each other in various ways; they visited, conducted business and even fought the British occupation together by forming and maintaining a cohesive multi-cultural front that crossed confessional divides. The common denominator was their Bahraininess which surpassed every other consideration. They celebrated their differences, rather than diligently work at finding the chinks to exploit in each others’ armor.

The stark contrast between that era and now could not be more evident. What we now have is an acutely insular society with impenetrable walls propped up by suspicion and hatred of the other. This “us and them” atmosphere is condoned by the government – regardless of how many denials we hear from their higher echelons – evidenced by the selective employment policies, the conditional awards of constitutionally guaranteed citizen benefits and the disparity in economic circumstance.

It has unfortunately become our way of life. So much is this in evidence, it is no wonder to witness the parliamentarians’ reactions; whether it be the condoning of the use of chemical weapons against their own society simply because in the current state of affairs demonstrations are mounted by the opposing sect, or their continued theft of their electorate’s personal freedoms or even their demand to expel and ban whole countries’ nationals due to the isolated incidences of the few.

We are all shocked and saddened by the unfortunate and violent recent demise of Mr. Dossary, as we are of Mr. Abbas Alshakhoori and the others who have fallen victims of unusual circumstances, but those incidents, painful as they are, hardly illicit the demand for the application of the collective punishment demanded by a major political society. Identify and punish the criminals by all means and make examples of them by fairly and fully applying the law, but those incidents should never be allowed to colour our psyche to the extent that we allow our own elected representatives to exercise their myopic beliefs without even a smidgeon of objection. And it is even worse when the government itself acts in such an unwarranted and unstudied kneejerk reaction as to impose such a ban on its own recognizance without any regard for its international obligations or even basic diplomacy.

Let us remind them that their role is to ameliorate differences and protect the national unity, and not diligently and wantonly work at exacerbating them. The demand to expel and ban Bangladeshis because of the unfortunate result of a single person’s moment of anger is tantamount to our agreement to the entrenchment and even encoding xenophobia as our main Bahraini trait.

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Interdependencies

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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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