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1,300 migrant workers strike in Bahrain over pay

On February 12, 2008

From the AFP:

MANAMA (AFP) — Around 1,300 migrant workers helping to build a luxury coastal development in Bahrain have gone on strike to demand higher wages, a company official said on Sunday.

The workers are employed by the contracting firm GP Zachariades to work on the Durrat al-Bahrain development in the south of the wealthy Gulf archipelago.

"Around 1,300 workers on the Durrat al-Bahrain project have been on strike since Saturday to demand an increase in their wages," the firm's health and safety chief Abdul Wahed al-Umran told AFP.

The workers have been confined to their living quarters by police while labour ministry officials try to persuade them to call off the strike, Umran added.

Official figures state Bahrain has approximately 270,000 expatriate workers who are mostly from the Asian sub-continent and employed mainly in unskilled jobs.

Umran said the labourers downed tools after hearing that around 750 workers employed by Almoayyed Contracting Group last week forced the firm to boost their salaries after going on strike for two days.

The striking workers on the Durrat al-Bahrain project earn between 120 and 180 Bahraini dinars (319 and 478 US dollars) a month, Umran said.

Durrat al-Bahrain -- the Arabic for "Pearl of Bahrain" -- is a multi-billion-dollar residential and commercial development consisting of 15 man-made islands set out in the shape of a necklace.

Workers employed in non-vital sectors are permitted to strike in Bahrain, unlike in other oil-rich Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

International Rights groups have criticised Gulf states for their treatment of migrant workers, on whom they rely to power their booming economies.

In March 2006, 2,500 labourers rioted in the UAE at the building site of Burj Dubai, which is still under construction but has already become the world's tallest skyscraper.

The incident prompted the New York-based Human Rights Watch to call on the UAE government to "end abusive labour practices" and describe labour conditions as "less than human".