New fee blow!

FISHERMEN already on the verge of financial ruin have been hit by a new insurance fee for Indian workers.

The Indian Embassy has introduced a BD950 fee per expatriate which sponsors have to pay into an Indian bank account before they come to Bahrain.

Fishermen are due to raise the issue with Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa during a meeting today.

They say the fee will be a major burden, costing them hundreds of thousands of dinars.

Indians make up the majority of helpers for fishermen, with an average of four per dhow, according to Fishermen’s Protection Society president Waheed Al Dossary

“We depend on Indians to assist us in the sea as they are more familiar with the Gulf sea than any other nationals.

“We will not only lose our assistants and helpers but also go bankrupt because of the fee.”

He will lead a delegation to the meeting with the Premier.

“We will also speak to him about the problem with Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) monthly fee of BD10 per expatriate worker and our request to extend the exemption from it until a fund is established.

“We will also inform him about our demonstration plans to press for our demands.”

He said fishermen have chosen four places – Muharraq, Sitra, Dair, Samaheej and in front of the Indian Embassy, Adliya – for protests.

He said the days and times of the protests would be decided later.

“I blame Labour Minister Dr Majeed Al Alawi for this, he was not co-operative with fishermen and now embassies are also making it hard for us,” said Mr Al Dossary.

Plans for a second strike are being considered, however, he said it was too early to say when it would take place.

“We are going ahead with the demonstrations and then we will see.”

The GDN reported last Sunday that fishermen had threatened demonstrations followed by strike action unless they received government support.

They want full exemption from the LMRA fee, claiming that they can only find foreign crews.

Fishermen also want financial compensation for lost earnings, in an industry they say has been decimated by land reclamation and declining catches.

More than 1,000 licensed fishermen are expected to take part in the demonstrations.

The Municipalities and Agriculture Ministry has backed their demands and sent a memo to the Cabinet, recommending an extension to exemption from the LMRA fee as well as action to speed up solutions to their grievances.

It was sent in the past three weeks and discussed in last Sunday’s Cabinet meeting.

Fishermen earlier threatened to strike if the government did not meet their demands by July 5.

The February strike lasted a week and involved more than 1,700 fishermen and was followed by a series of demonstrations.

A Cabinet session chaired by the Premier on February 23 discussed the creation of the fund to support families’ breadwinners.

In March authorities agreed to exempt the fishermen from the BD10 fee and Municipalities and Agriculture Minister Dr Juma Al Ka’abi later confirmed to the society that the levy had been lifted.

A meeting between LMRA officials and fishermen followed and the LMRA said the tax would be frozen for three months.

It also agreed to allow fishermen to renew their foreign workers’ residence permits free of charge.

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