Bahrain firm denies it will deport striking workers


Dubai : A Bahraini construction company has dismissed as untrue allegations that it will start deporting around 1,800 overseas workers who have been on strike for nearly a week now demanding better wages.

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The G.P. Zachariades Contracting Com told the Gulf Daily News that neither was it going to deport the striking workers nor were its officials trying to drag the strikers back to work.

Around 1,300 workers, many of them Indians, working on the Durrat Al Bahrain manmade island project, similar to the Palm Islands of Dubai, had downed tools Saturday demanding a minimum salary of 100 Bahraini dinars ($266).

They were joined two days later by 500 workers from another labour camp of the company.

The workers alleged that the company was planning to deport 150 of them a day if the strike continued.

Company managing director Stefanos G. Zachariades said the strike was illegal and blamed a recent announcement by the Indian embassy in Bahrain that India has fixed a minimum wage limit of 100 Bahraini dinars for all its unskilled workers in that Gulf nation effective March 1.

“This call has made the workers unhappy and has caused a situation of unrest,” he was quoted as saying.

“Workers think it’s unfair to pay those who join after March 1 more for the same work.”

The Indian embassy had recently issued a press release stating that the minimum wage limit for unskilled Indian workers in that Gulf country has been fixed at 100 Bahraini dinars a month.

“… Government of India would take appropriate steps to ensure that fresh employment being signed with effect from March 1, 2008 by prospective Indian employees with foreign companies would lay down the basic minimum wage of 100 Bahraini dinars apart from free provision of accommodation, transport etc. as per the requirements of Bahraini laws and regulations in the unskilled category,” it stated.

As for existing contracts, it stated that it was for the employers in Bahrain to take appropriate decisions based on their best judgement and humane considerations.

India’s Ambassador to Bahrain Balkrishna Shetty had earlier told IANS that this step was being taken on account of the rising cost of living.

“We are linking the wage structure with the cost of living and want the salaries to be paid through banks,” Shetty said.

This would protect workers from exploitation, inflation and the appreciation of the rupee, he added.

The workers claimed that they were paid only 57 Bahraini dinars a month and initially demanded that the figure be hiked to 100.

Bahraini trade unionists, who had come out in support of the workers, however stated that a more realistic figure would be an increase of 20 Bahraini dinars. The workers later pared down their demand to 90.

The workers also claimed that company officials had tried to drag the workers to buses headed for the work site from their beds in the camp where they have been locked up ever since they went on strike.

“Some of the Bahraini camp supervisors dragged workers from their beds and literally pushed them with their bare hands to the buses to get them to work,” General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions private sector general secretary Mohammed Ali Makki was quoted as saying.

“If it is proved true, the company has no right, even under Bahrain’s law, to exist here.”

Meanwhile, the Indian embassy has said it would not get involved in the issue.

“It is an internal matter between G.P. Zachariades company and its employees,” Ambassador Shetty told the Bahrain Tribune.

Stating that the embassy was there to look after its nationals’ welfare and not to get embroiled in individual conflicts between an employer and his employees, he said: “We will intervene if any of our nationals is harmed but only through the host government channels or in their presence.”

Zachariades had earlier approached the ambassador and requested him to persuade the workers to call off the strike.

“I want to make it clear that we neither support nor encourage our citizens to go on strikes,” Shetty was quoted as saying.

Bahrain has been hit by at least six labour strikes in the construction sector since Feb 4.

More than 100 contractors met at the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry headquarters in Manama Wednesday to discuss the strikes.

“We are convinced that they (the workers) are being led into these actions by forces who are against the development of Bahrain. This will not be tolerated,” contractors’ committee chairman Samir Nass was quoted as saying.