By Neil Halligan
Up to 2,000 garment factory workers take action after issuing a list of 12 demands
As many as 2,000 workers at a Bahrain factory face deportation over an illegal strike action currently being taken.
Workers at a Riffa garment factory were given an ultimatum to return to work by the country’s Labour Ministry, according to a report on Gulf Daily News.
MRS Fashions, which manufactures clothing for worldwide brands such as Macy's, GAP, JC Penney and Walmart, staged a mass walk-out last week after allegations of withheld salaries, unfair deportations, poor working conditions and mistreatment.
An estimated 2,000 Indian and Bangladeshi workers trashed the company’s factory in Hajiyat and submitted a set of 12 demands to the company’s management, including calls for a pay rise and better food and medical care, before they will return to work.
The Labour Ministry have issued a written warning that legal action would be taken, including deportation, if the workers did not return to work.
"This strike is illegal and we have issued a warning to the workers," Labour Ministry inspection and labour unions director Ahmed Al Haiki told the Gulf Daily News.
"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."
Al Haiki added that the workers do not have any leadership and refuse to select a spokesperson, which he said was affecting their attempts at negotiations.
"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.
He added that there were two dozen workers who are the cause of the strike.
Indian Embassy first secretary Ram Singh told Gulf Daily News that the workers are demanding a BD150 ($397) salary, which he said is being considered by management. A representative of the striking employees claimed their current salary was as little as BD55 ($145) a month.
News of the strike comes as union leaders in Bahrain claim they are close to launching an official organisation to help protect the rights of more than 120,000 expatriate labourers.
Vice-president of Bahrain Free Labour Union Federation (BFLUF), which is establishing the new union, Bassem Kuwaitan, said that members - expected to be mostly construction workers - would be provided with legal assistance and help with improving their living conditions and gaining health insurance.
Workers and employers are now being approached to join the new group. They would be charged a nominal fee of BD1.20 ($3.10) per year.