The GCC model of growth, development and economy is underpinned by the contribution of expatriate workers at all levels.
Despite new conditions, such as a young national workforce better educated in modern workplace requirements, there are still some areas that are not attractive for nationals.
The construction industry, which represents hard manual work – often outdoors and dangerous – is one.
Ask a young Bahraini and he (the work I am referring to is almost 100 per cent done by men) will say he wants to be an engineer or supervisor – and that a construction worker has a dead-end job.
He is right. In many parts of the developed world, even construction is highly automated and humans work on planning and supervisory levels.
These are not repetitive jobs and, at this level, they hold the promise of career growth and promotion.
Why should a Bahraini national be asked to do a dead-end job?
This is probably not the right time to point it out, but the fact is that GCC construction companies have, by and large, skirted the option of investing in high-end technology that will make the sector safer for workers and more productive.
In a cycle of downturn in the industry, it is unlikely that they will move their business model from its dependency on cheap expat labour.
Even in other sectors, skilled and unskilled, there are many expats.
Many government offices that I visit have expat “office boys”.
I am yet to come across a Bahraini tailor (not designer) and the majority of plumbers, air-conditioning repairmen etcetera are expats. Domestic workers are 100pc expat.
In short, expats weave an invisible net of support for us all.
Why then are MPs passing laws about runaway workers having to bear the cost of their return ticket?
Firstly, I am appalled that the term “runaway” is still used officially, a word that reeks of slavery and ill-treatment.
Secondly, it is a golden rule of HR that a worker who is respected and treated fairly will have no need to run away.
Most low-paid workers have families back home who depend on them and will not risk their jobs and legal status without reason.
Despite the many changes to Bahrain’s sponsorship and labour laws, making them among the most humane in the region, there are situations when workers’ contracts are broken and, often, workers jump jobs without following legal procedures.
Of course, there are those staff who unscrupulously dump employers, who have paid money to recruit them and process their papers – but these cases are rare.
Migrant worker rights volunteers tell me that, often, an employer who has not paid a worker for some months – or owes them gratuity – will report the person as being absent from work to create a shell case.
Will the new amendment ensure that employers settle all dues of an employee before the latter is ordered to pay for their air fare?
As for the law asking relatives of an expat to pay for the repatriation of a dead person’s remains, it reeks of irresponsibility.
These same employers would curtail the freedom and weekend breaks of female domestic workers, claiming that they are “responsible” to their families for their moral conduct.
If one happens to pass away, then the deceased’s relatives have to pay the costs?
Thank goodness the amendment is up for review by the Shura Council. May better sense and humanity prevail.