Bahrain factory workers continue strike
Manama, June 12, 2014
Around 2,000 workers at a Bahrain garment factory - which makes clothes for US retailers Macy's, JC Penney and Walmart - continued their strike for a second day yesterday.
The Indian and Bangladeshi employees at MRS Fashions downed tools on Tuesday after trashing the company's factory in Hajiyat, near Riffa, amid allegations of withheld salaries, unfair deportations, poor working conditions and mistreatment, said a report in the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.
It followed an incident on Monday evening when Indian machine operator Tariq Iqbal was allegedly mistreated when he tried to resign.
Iqbal later admitted that he slapped one of his superiors, but claimed he had been provoked.
When his co-workers heard that Iqbal had been handed over to police and potentially faced deportation, a riot broke out in the factory leaving machinery, furniture and office equipment smashed and broken.
An MRS Fashions spokesman claimed on Tuesday that it paid the best salaries in the industry without any delays, while providing access to free private and public healthcare.
However, workers' spokesman Pavan Kumar said yesterday that staff were refusing to return to work until their demands for a pay rise and better food and medical care were met.
"The managers who visited us on Tuesday evening said that they were ready to ignore the damage to the factory and asked us to resume work," Kumar told the GDN yesterday.
"But we decided not to and insisted on our demand for a salary raise.
"We need our salaries to be increased to BD150 (from BD75 a month), as the last time we got a raise was last year - BD4 ($10.5), that too after four years.
"We also want all our pending settlements to be cleared.
"If these conditions are not acceptable, we are all ready to go back to our countries."
He said a Labour Ministry representative had recorded workers' complaints about their conditions.
"He said the ministry will discuss the matter with management and do the needful to rectify (the situation)," said Kumar.
"Officials voiced their concern about the damages we caused to the factory."
However, Kumar revealed that employee representatives refused to accompany MRS Fashions management to the Labour Ministry yesterday for a meeting.
"We are not ready for any talks, nor would we resume work unless our demands are met," he added.
Other demands include a decision on the pending resignations of more than 100 employees, a fixed holiday schedule, overtime payments and a decision on the final settlement of Iqbal.
Meanwhile, Labour Ministry labour affairs assistant under-secretary Dr Mohammed Ali Al Ansari confirmed that ministry officials held a meeting with MRS Fashions management.
"We learnt the employees had put forward 12 demands," he said.
"We are looking into ways of settling the matter amicably as MRS has a good reputation in the ministry's records.
"But we will look into complaints of the employees seriously."
MRS Fashions told the GDN last year that it manufactured 160,000 garment items a week for global retailers such as Macy's, JC Penney, Kohl's, Belk and Walmart, accounting for up to 70 per cent of Bahrain's exports to the US.
It is understood work has been halted in all three units of its factory in Hajiyat, but the company's facility in Hidd employing women from Burma and Sri Lanka has not been affected.
A company spokesman said ministry officials told them that the complaints were minor and could be resolved internally.
"Furthermore, we met Bangladesh Embassy officials who said none of their nationals have any grievances against the company.
"In the past senior-level delegations have visited the Bangladeshi workers and no complaints were reported," he added.
"The company continues to work closely with Labour Ministry officials and are committed to resolve the issue at the earliest."
He added that the workers, except for a few "trouble-makers", returned to work. - TradeArabia News Service