Defiant labourers face deportation By MOHAMMED AL A'ALI Published: 28th February 2008

DEFIANT labourers, who unjustifiably refuse to work, will be immediately deported and new visas to replace them will be granted to their employers, the Labour Ministry said yesterday. Bahrain has no plans to introduce a minimum wage policy for expatriate labourers, which should be the responsibility of employers, said Labour Ministry Under-Secretary Shaikh Abdulrahman bin Abdulla Al Khalifa.

"However, employers are warned that they have to treat the labourers humanely," he said.

"I also strongly oppose a company's decision to cut air ticket costs from their employees' salary, because that's an obligation the employer should fulfil, not the workers."

Shaikh Abdulrahman was speaking yesterday at the first meeting of a committee set up recently following a spate of strikes by expatriate labourers in construction companies.

It was attended by members of the Construction Committee at the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"This committee has been formed to solve problems before they escalate and conditions worsen," said Shaikh Abdulrahman.

"We don't want to see disputes to turn into labourers' strikes.

"The ministry is seeking the chamber's co-operation and this is why we called its members here.

"Our next meeting will be with representatives of the General Federation for Bahrain Trade Unions to seek their opinion on this problem."

The committee also comprises representatives from the Interior Ministry and the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA).

"The representation of the Interior Ministry is important since it will be in charge of contacting embassies, whenever there are any future strikes by expatriate workers," said Shaikh Abdulrahman.

"It is also responsible for maintaining peace and stability in the country.

"The LMRA is in charge expatriate labourers' affairs, so its presence is also important, considering that it is responsible for carrying out inspections."

Shaikh Abdulrahman said that any unjustifiably defiant labourer would be immediately deported.

"A visa to replace him will be given directly to the contractor to ensure that his work is not affected, to allow him to bring a replacement as soon as possible," he said.

The meeting comes after labourers in 10 construction companies went on strike this month, demanding better pay and living conditions.

The companies include Bahrain Precast Concrete Company, Almoayyed Contracting, Hafeera Contracting Company, Mohsin Haji Ali Group, Habib Ali Awachi and Sons Group, G P Zachariades, Bokhowa Contracting Company, Technical Construction Company. Luqman Al Haddad Construction Company and Rabea'a Trading and Agriculture Company.

Shaikh Abdulrahman said that Indian Ambassador Balkrishna Shetty's Press remarks over a BD100 minimum wage for unskilled overseas workers introduced by his government were the main reason behind recent disturbances.

"Some labourers misunderstood those remarks on the new salary scheme, which will be effective next month, when new contracts will come into force," he said.

"Inflation has also further escalated the problem, due to the 17pc drop in value of the US dollar.

"Some companies can't properly deal with labourers. Even with the small salaries, those workers are forced to live in appalling accommodation and work under bad conditions."

Shaikh Abdulrahman said that having 20,000 to 30,000 labourers in one place was a problem.

"Proper housing should be provided and labourers shouldn't be stacked on top of each other," he said.

"The companies can also provide housing allowances for labourers to live away from the camp, but this will cause a problem to the authority, as it will make inspection campaigns more difficult."

He said that labour offices in India were also promising employees with dreams that don't come true.

"When they come here, after paying huge sums to those offices, they are under heavy debt, even leading many to suicides."

Chamber contractors committee chairman Sameer Nass said that Mr Shetty had told him that the minimum pay scheme maybe postponed.

"We hope that the Indian government would scrap the scheme altogether," he said.

"Those comments by Mr Shetty have had a negative impact on our national economy, making the Bahraini government take a stand like that of Kuwait against those demands and describing it as interference by a friendly country in its internal affairs.

"Mr Shetty told us that the recent strikes were caused by active communist cells in Dubai, which have been encouraging other labourers to create disturbances."

Shaikh Abdulrahman dismissed the scenarios, saying it was not true.

Mr Nass said that labourers' basic salaries were between BD60 and BD70, but with overtime they reach from BD120 to BD140.

"The labourers are also exempt from paying for electricity and water, and health insurance."

Mr Nass said that all contractors have entered tenders based on precise calculations on costs.

"Labourers' pay is one of those calculations and giving pay rises means that those companies will suffer severely," he said.

Mr Nass said that only few contractors breach the rights of labourers, not all of them.

"There should be more co-operation between the ministry and contractors to ensure that employers were aware of those rights.

"A hotline for labourers to call the ministry whenever there is a violation could be a good solution."

Mr Nass described Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society regional and international director and Shura Council member Faisal Fulad's recent comments to the BBC that up to 300,000 labourers were oppressed was untrue and bad for Bahrain's image.

LMRA inspection director and committee member Ahmed Al Khabaz said that there were three main problems that needed tackling.

"The first is to give proper housing to labourers, the second is to transfer labourers salaries directly to banks to prove that they get salaries and have official contracts with their employer to ensure that everyone knows their rights."

alaali@gdn.com.bh

*A meeting between trade unions from Gulf Air, Alba and other companies on Tuesday resulted in the formation of a joint binding co-ordinate committee to organise labour action. The politicising of the union movement, in the past five years, necessitated the step to organise the national trade union movement, a co-ordinate committee statement declared. Alba member Rashid Al Ansari was assigned committee co-ordinator.

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