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Wed 13 Feb 2008 12:35 PM

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Over a thousand still on strike over pay, conditions

Workers on $6bn Bahrain island project held up in labour camp for four days.

Over a thousand labourers working on a $6 billion manmade island project in Bahrain are still on strike demanding better pay and conditions.

Around 1,300 employees of contractor GP Zachariades have been locked in their accommodation for four days now after refusing to go back to work until their monthly salary is increased to 100 dinars ($265.6) from 57 dinars, Bahrain's Gulf Daily News reported on Wednesday.

Employees had planned to march from their labour camp to the Labour Ministry on Sunday, around 30 kilometres, but were locked inside the camp, according to the newspaper.

Another 500 GP Zachariades workers at a separate camp joined the strike on Monday, the paper said.

The labourers are working on the Durrat Al Bahrain, artificial island project similar to the Palm islands in Dubai.

Bahrain's trade union body has backed workers' demands for a pay rise, although said an increase of 20 dinars was more reasonable, and called for improvements in their living conditions.

A spokesperson for the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) said the union had inspected the labour camp and described the conditions as "unacceptable", Gulf Daily News said.

The spokesperson said the GFBTU had found instances of up to 14 workers staying in one room. Bahraini law states that no more than eight workers should stay in a room.

A spokesman for the protesters said on Tuesday they had lowered their demand to 90 dinars, but GP Zachariades has ruled out any increase in their salaries, the paper said.

The strike is thought to be linked to India's announcement last week it would ban its unskilled workers from migrating to Bahrain unless they are paid a minimum wage of 100 dinars ($265) a month.

The government of India, which provides the majority of unskilled labourers in the Gulf, is in the process of implementing a minimum wage for its citizens working in the region.

However, the minimum wage is not enforceable in the Gulf and so companies are under no obligation to increase the salaries of Indians already under contract.

The ongoing strike follows a two-day protest last week by around 750 employees of Almoayyed Contracting in Bahrain, who were refusing to return to work until their pay was increased to 85 dinars a month from 60 dinars currently.

Workers eventually agreed to an increase of 15 dinars, an offer they had initially rejected, due to fears they could be deported, Gulf Daily News said.

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