Looking comprehensively at the prevailing muddle of illegal labour in Bahrain, the narratives and opinions that address it, I find this illegal labour matter fundamentally like any other resource like oil, water and geographical location. We have to invest in it intelligently and prudently envisioning sustainable development. If however, we leave it untouched, it could be potentially dangerous for our economy.
We always expect foreign workers to be efficient, to adhere to instructions and thrive as productive law-abiding residents. This is undoubtedly our lawful right. At the same time, we must not fail to address a long array of questions before we bring in foreign labour. Do we need this worker? Are we hiring the labour to sell him a commercial record or a work visa and then reject him? And if he is a regular employee, are we providing him with the basic necessities of life, such as acceptable monthly salary, decent accommodation, and food? I am definitely not an idealist nor a pipe dreamer, but in light of my experience let me assure you that whenever you deny your labour his primary human needs, you are in fact sparking off a future problem for your business and for yourself. A foreign labour, regardless of his ethnicity or nationality, is not a second-class citizen.
To be honest, I reckon that the Labour Market Regulatory Authority has shouldered a weighty burden that has accumulated over decades since its establishment in 2006. The Authority even had to embark on a long bitter tussle for the realisation of its name, “Labour Market Regulatory Authority”. And it’s still a debatable question if the system could actually achieve its purpose. In the present scenario, there is a tremendous influx of illegal workers into Bahrain; brought in by the so called “Visa traders”, but we readily acquire them, invest in them, and eventually discard them. Unless and until entrepreneurs and traders acknowledge this and take on the responsibility of their foreign labour, the regulation of the market will remain an unattainable dream.
Here my intent is not to defend nor adopt someone else’s perspective, but to introspect and urge everyone to positively contribute towards labour market regulation. What good can any regulatory agency do if it exhausts itself and its budget in the humungous task of tracking unlawful workers, sheltering them in detention quarters, and repatriating them at public expense. The recent coining of the Flexible Visa represents a possible solution. It still is the best hassle-free solution available for us.
Let me make one thing clear. A foreign worker apparently does not infiltrate into Bahrain illegally through long borders as happens between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, or Mexico and US, or Libya and Italy. The only plausible ways through which one can enter Bahrain are, the airport, the causeway and the port.
All of which are strictly monitored and regulated. That too after a meticulous filtering which involves the verification of Visa and sponsorship endorsed by a citizen or a company. Why are we seeing such high numbers of illegal workers despite having all these measures in place?
As responsible businessmen, once their visas expire, why don’t we send them back in the same respectful way in which we brought them in? The answers to these questions are pointers towards the solutions for the illegal workers’ file.
There are many who blame the current Covid pandemic for provoking the crisis of illegal labour. But I see it as a reminder that has highlighted the seriousness of this issue. The fault lies neither on the migrant worker nor the laws and regulation, but on the inadequate practises that we unfortunately have been following.
We don’t know how different the world will be after this pandemic is over. Perhaps this might be the beginning of a new way of living. Let us all conduct ourselves, with utmost care, dedication, and resolve, in such a way as to ensure that we address the illegal labour issue in a different way, a better way.