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2,000 garment unit workers go on strike in Bahrain.

Work at a Riffa garment factory ground to a halt yesterday as nearly 2,000 employees went on a strike over allegations of abuse, withheld payment and forced deportation.

The walk-out at MRS Fashions in Hajiyat was sparked by an incident on Monday evening, when Indian machine operator Tariq Iqbal was allegedly assaulted by his line managers after trying to resign, said a report in the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.

When his co-workers heard that Mr Iqbal had subsequently been handed over to the police and potentially faced deportation, a riot broke out in the factory leaving machinery, furniture and office equipment smashed and broken.

"We knew that we would not see Tariq again if we didn't do something drastic like this," said Indian employee Pavan Kumar.

"Any employee who insists on his rights will be deported the next day and the same was being done to Tariq," he claimed.

Iqbal, 25, said he had worked for the company for nine months, but did not want to continue due to what he described as "unhealthy working conditions".

"The manager said I cannot go home, tore up my resignation and threw it in my face," he said.

"He provoked me when I tried to explain why I wanted to quit, which made me angry and I slapped him.

"Then our production manager dragged me into his office along with another manager."

Iqbal claims that this was when the alleged assault took place.

However, a company spokesman said the incident was being handled by the police.

"During the change of shift, a handful of workers indulged in vandalism, the video footage of which has been handed over to the police who are investigating," he said.

He also dismissed claims of unhealthy work conditions.

"We have a grievance redressal procedure and any complaints brought to the attention of the management are immediately attended to and resolved," he said.

"Salaries paid are the best in the industry and are paid without any delays.

"In addition to government health care, the employees are provided with private healthcare facilities as and when required, the cost of which is borne by the company."

Meanwhile, Kumar claimed that every month at least 10 employees who demanded better working conditions or expressed their desire to quit would "vanish" from the company.

"We are paid between BD55 ($145) and BD75 for 10 hours of work during one shift," he said.

"Our target is 2,200 garments to be completed by 60 labourers in one shift.

"During the working hours we need to take permission even to go to the bathroom or to drink water.

"This place is like a prison."

Other Indian and Bangladeshi workers spoke to the GDN about alleged refusal of medical treatment, supposedly substandard meals and multiple claims of salaries being withheld.

Indian Embassy first secretary Ram Singh said that three embassy representatives visited the site yesterday.

"The men started shouting slogans and refused to speak to them in small groups as requested by the embassy personnel," he said.

"We have spoken to the employer and our request is to sort the matter out amicably - if needed, the embassy is ready to help."

Bangladesh Embassy first secretary Muhammad Mohidul Islam said that he had been informed about the incident by the employer, but was not aware of any Bangladeshi involved in any fight.

"No nationals have approached us yet, however, we are ready to help if needed," he said.

Labour Ministry assistant under-secretary Dr Mohammed Ali Al Ansari said he had not been notified.

"It is surprising that neither the employees nor the employer - who has my contact details - have reached out to me," he said.

"If the allegation of an employee being beaten up is true, we will take strict action as we do not tolerate such acts.

"Expatriate workers are here to make a living and at the same time they are helping us in building our country.

"They need to be protected and we will make sure that someone visits them soon." - TradeArabia News Service

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Publication:TradeArabia (Manama, Bahrain)
Date:Jun 11, 2014
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