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New union for construction sector soon

A TRADE union to protect the rights of construction workers in Bahrain could be up and running by the end of the year. The General Federation of Bahrain Trade Union spokesman Jaffar Khalil said that it has already held several meetings and a workshop with Geneva-based Building and Wood Workers' International (BWI) to discuss the proposal. Construction is said to be the biggest industry for expatriates in Bahrain and an estimated 95,000 workers are employed within the sector, including Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Filipinos and Koreans. Mr Khalil said the union would be able to address the main issues facing the sector, including health and safety issues, working hours, pay rates and workers' accommodation.

He said that a trade union would also give greater negotiating powers to workers.

"They will still be able to negotiate with their individual companies, but they will also be under a central leadership that can make firmer and more far-reaching decisions," he said.

"They will be affiliated to the BWI."

Mr Khalil said the union has also held discussions with union leaders in an attempt to improve the number of expatriate members.

"The laws permit foreigners to join unions but many don't because they are either afraid of their employers or don't know what's in it for them," he said.

Migrant Workers Protection Society vice-chairman Alfredo D'Souza welcomed the move, saying there were several concerns for workers in the sector that required improvement.

"There are several issues such as the non-payment of wages, which is the most common complaint we receive, both from labourers and domestic workers," he said.

"Another is delayed salary payments. Some workers have to wait up to six months. It is not uncommon.

"It should also tackle other issues such as safe and hygienic accommodation for expatriates."

The society has a safety and welfare committee dedicated to improving the conditions for expatriates working in Bahrain and Mr D'Souza said this was also an area of major concern.

"There have been far too many accidents in spite of measures being announced and people being transported to and from work even in covered trucks is not enough," he said.

"They should be in buses or vans."

Mr D'Souza said a union could also help in negotiating the number of hours employees are forced to work and also with the implementation of the government's new summer ban on outdoor work between midday and 4pm.

However, he said that the society would only support a trade union that worked through negotiations and not demonstrations or strikes. geoff@gdn.com.bh



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