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Unpaid construction workers in Bahrain left in the lurch — again

62 workers from Abdulla H Al Derazi & Sons Co WLL company are waiting for their dues in a derelict camp without electricity. They have not been paid for 12 months.

On November 7, 2022

Construction firm Abdulla H Al Derazi & Sons Co WLL (Al Derazi) is the latest in a slew of companies abandoning their workers in Bahrain. The company’s 62 employees, who hail primarily from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, are owed between 6 and 12 months' worth of wages and end-of-service benefits, totalling about BD100,000 (US$ 265,319).

The company had been paying the workers sporadically for several months. (See: The life cycle of wage theft in the GCC). “Since at least January of last year (2021), the company has been paying one month's salary every two to three months to some of us, while others have had their salaries delayed even before January,” said a Pakistani worker who wished not to be named.

The workers told MR that they had continued to work despite the irregular payments because their manager had assured them that their dues would be paid once the company resolves its financial issues. Some of the workers have been with the company for more than 20 years.

But at the end of August 2022, the workers finally dropped their tools and ceased working when the company reneged on its promises once again. The workers initially filed a complaint at the Budaiya police station, close to where they live. When they received no response, they filed a complaint at the Ministry of Labour on 6 September 2022.

“When we went to the Ministry, the person working there scolded us because we all came together instead of sending a representative on our behalf.” The workers were then told that the Ministry will speak to the employer to resolve the issue.

After not hearing anything back from the Ministry of Labour either, the workers then went to the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) on 14 September 2022 to lodge a complaint. But there they were told that the LMRA cannot take complaints from those whose work permits have expired for over a year. According to the workers MR spoke to, only 15 of the 62 workers had permits that expired less than a year ago, and only they were able to lodge a complaint through LMRA’s assistance unit.

The rest of the workers were told to go to Bahrain’s Ministry of Justice and file a civil court case against the employer.

Al Derazi’s downfall and a race against time

Established in 1960, Abdulla H Al Derazi & Sons Co WLL was one of Bahrain's major suppliers of cranes and construction vehicles. The company worked on a number of public and private projects and specialised in excavation and water line construction. Until a few years ago, the company was graded as an “A” class contractor by the Ministry of Works, meaning it was eligible to take up projects worth up to BD6 million (US$ 16.24 million).

According to documents reviewed by MR, Abdulla H Al Derazi’s recent clients include Batelco, Bahrain’s main telecommunication company, Aradous Contracting & Maintenance and China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC).

Al Derazi workers told MR that the company was in trouble due to mismanagement by the managing directors, who they say have since left Bahrain.

Al Derazi is currently being managed by HR manager Ali Jaafar Hasan Alkhal. According to Bahrain’s Commercial Registration portal (Sijilat), Alkhal currently has a registered construction company called AHD WLL (CR number: 153855-1) under his name. While according to Sijilat the Al Derazi’s status is “under sequester.” The workers claim that Alkhal is using AHD as a cover for Al Derazi operations.

On 17 October, 10 days after electricity was shut off at the workers' accommodation, the workers again went to the Ministry of Labour. The Ministry assistant under-secretary Ahmed Al Hayki told Gulf Daily News that the “employer is involved in legal issues and the court has agreed to release the funds for salaries – the men will receive three months’ pay next week,” adding that a “labour inspector will also visit the camp and make certain that power is restored.”

However, these assurances were not fulfilled, and the workers have yet to receive anything from the company. They now have been living without electricity and gas for nearly a month. One of the workers told the Gulf Daily News, “we are being supported by social workers and charity organisations who gave us dry rations, but how do we cook it without electricity or gas? This is not a long-term solution.”

The workers returned to the Ministry of Labour on 1 November to plead for help, but were again instructed to file a case at the civil court. An Indian worker told the Gulf Daily News, “They assured that power and water would be restored within a week, but nothing has happened. So we went back to the ministry today, but they said there was nothing they could do and asked us to go back to the civil court.”

The workers told MR that their dependents back home are struggling because they are unable to send money. A Bangladeshi worker said, “my family is not able to afford food, they are telling me to come back, but I cannot go back without getting my [owed] money.”

A worker laments that Al Derazi claims to have no money, but they have all this machinery that they are cutting it up and selling.

Video appears to show machinery being disassembled.

While the company’s assets and bank accounts have been frozen by the Bahraini government, the workers said that the company’s manager has recently hired free visa workers — workers who are not their employees — to cut up cranes and construction vehicles to sell for cash.

Videos reviewed by MR show that several cranes, tools, and vehicles are currently being cut up and disassembled. One Al Derazi worker said “the company manager is always telling us that they have financial issues because their account and assets are frozen, but he has hired workers to cut and sell many vehicles for scrap” adding that “the vehicles and cranes in this yard alone are worth at least BHD 300,000 (US$ 812,013), they can easily pay us our money if they want to.”

In a worrying incident on 2 November, the Budaiya police station — where workers filed the first complaint — summoned five workers to report to the station. On arrival, they were told that they would be sent to jail and deported because they do not hold a valid residency status. The workers MR spoke to suspect that the manager used his connections at the Budaiya police station to get rid of the workers.

Fortunately, before the five workers could be sent to jail, they were able to obtain a lawyer who helped get them released from the police. But the incident intensified the workers’ fears of being arrested and deported at any time before receiving their full wages and benefits — a fear that is well-grounded, given Bahrain’s recent uptick in deportations targeting migrant workers with irregular status. MR has previously reported on similar cases in which the Bahraini officials shuffled workers between departments and made empty promises, only for the workers to leave empty-handed after months of waiting in bleak conditions. MR urges the Bahraini government to break this pattern, to intervene immediately, and assist the workers in settling their owed wages and end-of-service benefits.