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Wednesday, February 20, 2019 ARCHIVES  |  SEARCH  |  POST ADS  |  ADVERTISE  |  SUBSCRIBE   |  LOGIN   |  CONTACT US

A difficult decision

By Meera Ravi

Expats and human rights activists have been quick to sympathise with workers who earn BD250 and have their families here, since a new rule calls for a minimum wage of BD400 to obtain a family visa.

It also means that some babies born after the rule took effect in January will not be able to stay on in Bahrain with their parents.

Analysing it cool-headedly, a BD400 baseline for maintaining families in some measure of comfort is a sensible move, given rising costs in Bahrain.

Sometime ago, I was shocked when a social worker told me there were expat families in Bahrain whose main breadwinner was a bus driver or a small restaurant chef earning about BD250 - and they simply stopped sending children to school after a time because they could not afford it.

This was apparently especially true when the child in question was a girl, a double injustice that hearkens back to the early 20th Century, when the female child was the last priority for health and education goals.

Quite rightly, Bahrain does not want to encourage this.

However, a sudden jump from BD250 to BD400 is steep indeed and not one that any employer can accommodate in lean times, even if they want their employee to have their family with them.

The matter is further complicated because the rule applies to babies born this year, but not to those born before the rule.

Suddenly, families are faced with leaving newborns in the care of relatives back home, or the mother going back to their country with their child or children.

Another problem is that these rules are announced and implemented arbitrarily without proper discussion with stakeholders.

They affect not only the families of expats, but also productivity and the national economy.

It is understandable for expats to protest that the hike in the minimum salary to qualify for a family visa is steep.

But reports suggest that employers are also unhappy since they see a drop in their staff’s happiness quotient, which is so closely connected to their work output.

Separating families places a huge psychological toll on every family member, which can affect their well-being and shapes communities of the future.

Therefore, there must be a measure of transparency in how these rules are discussed and put into action, taking into consideration the affect on emotional well-being and economic implications.

Let’s assume three in 10 families are forced to split, with only the breadwinner remaining in Bahrain.

Does it make economic sense to encourage 30 per cent of the spending public to leave, especially in these times when we need every dinar to boost the economy?

At the same time, it is important to ensure minimum standards of living for families.

One solution is gradually building in the change.

Give families the chance to show a nest egg of savings over 12 months, perhaps, and make sure that key indices such as school enrolments don’t suffer.

Expats account for more than half of Bahrain’s population, with figures released last November putting the figure at 823,000 expatriates (55 per cent), compared with 677,000 Bahrainis.

There must be a humane assessment of the situation before we roll out such schemes.

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