Bahrain has postponed the implementation of a ban on the dangerous practice of transporting construction workers to and from work in open trucks after protests from private companies. The ban was meant to come into effect on January 1st 2009, but was shouted down by businessmen who claimed that the cost of transporting workers in buses would seriously raise their costs.
Bahraini authorities announced the 'zero tolerance' policy back in November last year after a reported 33 work-related transport accidents claimed 8 lives in the first quarter of the year alone. Two years ago three workers were killed and 21 injured in a road accident after being transported in an open truck. Companies who violated the proposed ban were to be fined BD100 (US$265)
Construction firms were warned in April 2008 that they had until the end of the year to replace open trucks with buses for transporting their workers, but many still refused to accept the new regulations. Aparently the cost of providing covered buses for workers will set companies around BD1 million (that's about $2.7 billion). One can't help feeling that this is a slightly overblown and misleading figure
Bahrain Contractors’ Society president Nedham Kameshki said the move would have major implications for the construction sector.
“There are more than 10,000 contractors who have commercial registrations,” he told the GDN.
“The big contractors have to buy 30 to 40 buses each and the small contractor at least one.
“At an average of five buses per contractor, the decision will force about 50,000 buses onto Bahrain’s already congested roads during peak hours.”
Mr Kameshki claimed there was no need for the new rule, saying the maximum transporting time in Bahrain was about 20 minutes.
“Buses are good for people who work in offices,” he added.
(Full story here)
Why 50,000 airconditioned buses would be any worse in a Bahraini traffic jam than the existing rickety fleet of open lorries is something of a mystery. Then again, workers presumably can't be crammed like animals into a safe and modern bus, which means more buses hitting the roads.
The government's inaction has been slammed by human rights groups: (See Gulf Daily News articles here
"They (companies) were given enough time and several notices before finally deciding to implement the open truck ban," said Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS) action committee head Marietta Dias.
"The credit crunch thing that they are talking about now is just an excuse.
"They have been postponing the issue for a long time - it's been almost two years since they were informed about it.
"I think it is just an excuse, saying that it would cost more money to their overburdened finances.
"Why don't they think of the money they have made from all these years of putting the lives of these labourers at risk?
"Safety of people is more important than money and it has to be paramount."
She said the risk to workers had now increased because of increasing numbers of cars on the road.
"The chance of having an accident in an open truck is greater now than it was two years ago," she claimed.
"Why are they talking about the cost and traffic congestion now?
"They have had enough time, why didn't they highlight the issue earlier?"
It's time for Bahrain's government to put its promises into action by going ahead with the ban. Traffic congestion? Another cost for the private sector? the credit crunch? None of these arguments stand up when you consider number of workers that have been hurt, maimed or even killed because of accidents in open trucks.