One of the reasons given in the Shura Council for making expatriate ‘runaway’ workers pay for their return tickets home is that Bahrainis ‘invest’ BD750 to bring an African housemaid and between BD1,500 and BD1,800 from Asia and that Bahraini families often take loans to get them here.
To me, that sounds like a very weak reason to burden expat workers coming to the kingdom with additional charges that will be used to protect the employer from the air fare costs in case they run away. If you have to borrow money to get yourself a domestic worker, you really need one badly. That means you have a large and busy household. It also means, the chance of your domestic worker being overworked would be greater – and so the chances of her/him running away are proportionately greater.
Unless you follow a strict code of conduct and give her a humane salary and working conditions. Believe me, if you do that, the chances of any worker running away come down.
Friends who work as volunteers in worker support NGOs have often told me that while 85 to 90 per cent of cases brought to them reflect the genuine plight of the worker, there is a proportion in which employees are slackers or who run away on the slimmest pretext. That’s human nature, I guess. But should we penalise the majority because of the chance that a few workers will go AWOL?
How about the employer and the recruitment agent paying a deposit towards a return ticket and two months salary? After all, most workers who abandon their original workplace complain of non-payment of salary and the court hearings are so stretched that they are forced to leave empty-handed.
Even more inhuman is the rule that the relatives of expats who may die in Bahrain should pay for the repatriation of their bodies. To perform the last rites of a loved one is a sacred duty in all communities. When a worker arrives in Bahrain, s/he comes with hope and to improve the conditions of her family back home. S/he is not planning to die here. If that happens, the employer must step up and make arrangements to repatriate the body without putting a financial burden upon the grieving family. In any case, the governments of countries like India support the repatriation of the bodies of their citizens and there are NGOs and charities that help nationals of other South Asian countries.
Of course, it is not right to have an informal system for such a serious matter, especially not one reliant on charity. The repatriation of a person’s mortal remains or the deportation of an expat who proves unreliable and disloyal to his/her employer are matters that must be formally incorporated into the work contract and calculated as a risk the employer takes in return for services rendered by the employee.
Let us not erode the trust or the benefits that are rightfully part of the covenant between the worker and employer. Every time we make an employee pay for such intrinsic rights, we remove a bit of the humanity that governs our inter-personal relationship as humans and reduce our interactions to soul-less transactions. That’s a terrifying moral price to pay and not worth the saving of a few dinars.