One sign of the state of the nation is usually the amount of news coverage about the expat situation.
By that measure, yesterday was a grey day in Bahrain – the GDN discussed plaques on residential buildings announcing the number of residents so that unauthorised ‘labour camps’ can be prevented; a popular budget airline was hauled over the coals for arbitrarily sending out notices to customers that they should either use their tickets purchased before pandemic restrictions hit travel plans or forfeit the money – sometimes running in the hundreds for a family; and finally, municipal councillors used strong language to call out ‘rogue’ food truck owners who violated commercial registration conditions and employed expats to run their enterprise.
Overcrowded and unhygienic living conditions represent not just a broken promise on the part of the employer but also a basic human rights violation which the Bahrain government takes very seriously.
The government does keep close tabs on errant landlords and agents who overcrowd worker dorms to save costs but their response to questions about why more is not done is often that they are short of manpower.
I often wonder what the role of the community is in this scenario.
Why do we turn a blind eye to the condition of fellow-humans who are forced to rent “bed space” instead of a room – where people take turns to sleep by pairing their office timings with opposites – one day-shift person with a night-duty worker and their life out of a suitcase stowed under the bed.
Our acceptance and lack of action begins when we ignore advertisements for such ‘accommodation’ on building walls and lamp-posts instead of calling the numbers and reporting them to the authorities.
Shutting our eyes to such violations is as bad as turning away from domestic abuse – and, given the political clout that has gained over the recent years, we wouldn’t do that, would we?
There is a fine line between being an interfering busybody and a person invested in raising the bar for the community and just because it’s drawn on sand, doesn’t mean we needn’t walk that line.
If we see a residence with unusually high traffic, we must question it and make sure lives are not being risked. Our reason for questioning should not, however, be rooted in prejudice about class and race but rather informed by genuine concern for the rights of fellow humans.
Coming to the question of airlines suddenly pulling the rug from under their passengers’ feet with diktats of time limits and forfeits, there must be a consumer court which affected passengers can approach for help.
These passengers are the wind beneath the wings of the airlines and such cavalier attitude towards them especially in times of genuine economic and social distress is a poor management of a valuable brand.
And we come to the question of food trucks – if an expat is willing to invest in the business and work hard to succeed, why discriminate?
This is business-friendly Bahrain, as we are often reminded, and while Bahrainis must get first dibs on jobs and business opportunities, restricting these opportunities in a business where variety is what spices up the success seems like snatching loss from the jaws of profit!
The economy needs investors and SMEs are a business model that have worked well for other countries like Singapore where the business eco-system is similar.
Let’s cut the discrimination and play fair – and let’s not bandy around harsh words like ‘rogue’ and ‘runaway’ for people just wanting to turn in an honest day’s work!