Bahrain trade unions, businessmen for talks over strikes

February 18th, 2008 - 8:25 pm ICT by admin  

Dubai, Feb 18 (IANS) Leading trade unionists and businessmen in Bahrain have called for tripartite talks regarding labour strikes hitting the country’s construction industry after thousands of overseas workers, including Indians, went on strike this month. They said these strikes would not only hit the construction sector but the economy as a whole, according to media reports here.

“We need to go back to the basic concept of tripartite dialogue as espoused by the International Labour Organisation, and this dialogue should be within the framework of the decent work concept,” Hussain Al Mahdi, a businessman and economic researcher, told the Bahrain Tribune newspaper.

Thousands of overseas workers, including Indians, in various construction sites in the Gulf nation went on strike this month demanding better wages and living and working conditions.

The Indian embassy in Bahrain had recently issued a notification fixing the minimum wage limit for its unskilled workers in that country at 100 Bahraini dinars ($266).

There are around 275,000 Indians in Bahrain, many of them engaged as contract labour in the booming construction industry.

India’s Ambassador to Bahrain had said that the Indian government had taken this move as the cost of living has been going up because of the depreciation in the value of the dollar to which the local currency is pegged and appreciation of the rupee.

The Bahraini dinar’s value has gone down by at least 20 percent compared to the rupee in the last year.

“If we look at it, the strike is right on one hand. On the other hand, the management decision is also right. It is important that we put in mind the higher interest of Bahrain, otherwise all of us will be affected,” Al Mahdi was quoted by the Tribune.

“All the parties - government, business sector and workers - should talk and agree on a win-win situation for all.”

General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) vice-chairman Salman Mafoodh said his organisation has been closely monitoring the situation.

“The problems are poor wages and poor living conditions. It is time to raise the standard for the construction workers so that this crisis will not continue. Everyone should be involved,” the report quoted him.

In a statement issued earlier, GFBTU had warned of massive protests hitting the construction sector because of dissent by both Bahraini and expatriate workers.

“The needs of local and migrant workers were ignored. This would lead to an explosive situation and cause socio-economic instability,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, workers of a second construction company engaged in the $6-billion Durrat Al Bahrain project, similar to the Palm Islands of Dubai, downed tools Sunday demanding better wages and living conditions.

A spokesman for the workers told the Gulf Daily News that the workers were being a paid a salary of 57 Bahraini dinars.

“The salary of labourers who have been working for 10 years is 57 Bahraini dinars - the rest get 53 Bahraini dinars,” he was quoted as saying.

“The company agreed to increase our salary from January, though an amount was not fixed. But when we got our salaries for January on Thursday, we found there was no increase and we decided to strike.”

The company, however, has denied this and said that the workers were being paid 60 to 85 Bahraini dinars a month.

Last week, around 1,800 workers of the G.P. Zachariades Contracting Co, also working on the Durrat Al Bahrain project, had gone on strike with similar demands.

They resumed work Friday after assurances from the company management that their demands would be looked into.


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