Bahrain Labour Ministry warns striking workers
Manama, June 16, 2014
Striking workers at a Riffa garment factory now face deportation if they do not return to work today (June 16) following an ultimatum issued by the Labour Ministry yesterday.
An estimated 2,000 workers at MRS Fashions, which manufactures garments for global brands such as Macy's, JC Penney and Walmart, held a mass walk-out last week amid allegations of withheld salaries, unfair deportations, poor working conditions and mistreatment, said a report in the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.
The Indian and Bangladeshi employees downed tools on Tuesday after trashing the company's factory in Hajiyat and have since refused to co-operate with company management and Labour Ministry officials - instead issuing a set of 12 demands, including calls for a pay rise and better food and medical care.
Labour Ministry inspection and labour unions director Ahmed Al Haiki told the GDN that a written warning had now been issued to those on strike, alerting them that legal action would be taken - ultimately leading to deportation - if they did not return to work.
"This strike is illegal and we have issued a warning to the workers," he said.
"I personally went and spoke to them, but they refused to negotiate and are adamant that they would only go back to work if their demands are met."
Among the problems hindering negotiations is the fact that the workers are effectively leaderless and refuse to select a front man, Al Haiki said.
"We have asked them to select a leader who can talk on their behalf, as we cannot talk to 2,000 people at the same time," he said.
"We are trying to help these workers, who have come to Bahrain to earn a decent living, but how can we solve this issue if they keep on dragging out the issue and don't talk to us or to the management?"
Just two dozen workers "who dragged others into it" are the cause of the entire strike, according to Al Haiki.
"They are now threatening other workers and are forcing them to stay in the labour camp provided by the company," he said.
"We have been in touch with the company, workers and respective embassies trying to sort out this matter and last week we arranged transport for the workers to come and talk to us, but they refused.
"They are not co-operating at all and severe action will be taken against those who go against the law."
Al Haiki added that the workers live in company accommodation that is in "excellent condition" and are still being served food prepared by chefs hired by MRS Fashions.
Indian Embassy first secretary Ram Singh earlier went to the labour accommodation with Al Haiki and Indian Community Relief Fund chairman Bhagwan Asarpota to talk to the workers.
"We are unable to talk to them, as they all want to talk at the same time and tell us their problems," said Singh.
"Demands should be discussed with the management and the ministry in the presence of the workers.
"But they are not willing to talk and that's the major problem we are facing.
"Workers are demanding a BD150 ($395.5) salary, which I think the management is thinking about now, else they would have no other option but to close their operations in Bahrain."
A representative of the striking employees claimed their current salary was as little as BD55 a month, adding that they were ready to be deported if their demands were not met.
"We have been working here for a long time but no one is listening to our problems," he told the GDN, on condition of anonymity.
"We are ready to go to jail or be deported back home, rather than work in these conditions," he added.
No one from MRS Fashions was available for comment when contacted by the GDN yesterday. - TradeArabia News Service