The extremely widespread coronavirus in the Arab Gulf ignited a crisis for guest workers stemming from unethical employer practices, such as dismissal and delayed salary payments in violation of workers’ rights.
The Kingdom of Bahrain is no exception. Hundreds of guest workers in both public and private sectors suffer from harsh working conditions amid the spread of the corona pandemic, victims of arbitrary dismissals, or having to put up with late payment of their salaries1.
There are around 782,000 guest workers in Bahrain; they form the majority of the labor force in both the public and the private sectors. Most of them hold low-skill and low-pay jobs in the construction, trade, manufacturing, and domestic work sectors2.
The above situation has been revealed by a series of briefs about the reality of social protection in the Arab world carried out by the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) in the Kingdom of Bahrain; in focus were procedures and responses in the fight against the corona pandemic, particularly the country’s measures to protect vulnerable groups, such as the poor, the elderly, children, migrants, refugees and people with disabilities.
Bahrain, like many other countries, took several measures to stem the negative effects of the spread of corona. Among them, it launched a 4.3 billion Bahraini dinar package to counter the repercussions of the virus on the local economy3.
The financial package is meant to ensure the safety of the country’s citizens and residents, and the continuity of the programs in place to secure sustainable development. Other measures are exemptions of fees for basic services, and support for small- and medium-sized businesses, productive families and uninsured struggling employers4.
Bahraini women contributed substantially to fighting the virus. A report by the Supreme Council for Women shows that Bahraini women constitute 20% of the total number of volunteers in the country.
The same report shows 4,950 women working as volunteers in the field of disinfection. The report also shows that women have made strides in numerous areas, particularly in medical care, out of all the Bahraini doctors in the kingdom 68% are women, a figure that is way above the international average of women doctors, which stands at 46%5.
During the corona crisis, thousands of volunteers from civil society organizations in Bahrain have been working alongside government employees on the frontline, especially in quarantine centers, coronavirus testing locations, disinfection of buildings and provision of logistical services in quarantine centers6.
The Ministry of Health secured delivery of prescription medication to the elderly, for them not to be forced to leave their homes. Beneficiaries book appointments online, spared having to wait in queues, and receive text messages with their order number as soon as they book the appointment7.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Development continues to provide comprehensive services to the 12,000 people with disabilities; it pays them a monthly salary of 100 dinars and offers them care and habilitation services through online training and learning8.
Since the start of the crisis, the Smile of Bahrain initiative provided psycho-social support to children with cancer through an intensive campaign to spread awareness, among children and their parents, about the need to ensure maximum protection for the children and avoid any risks9.
Lately, with Amnesty International in the lead, demands for releasing prisoners, especially the ones that “exercised their right of peaceful expression of opinion”, the elderly and the sick, from the Kingdom’s prisons increased10.
With Bahrain reaching 38,458 confirmed coronavirus cases, 137 deaths and 826 recoveries11, and in light of the suspension of operations of social centers, more demands are being made to implement online visitations and create innovative solutions for the implementation of the personal status law regarding visitation rights to ensure the protection of both parents’ right of visitation.