By Courtney Trenwith
Organisation aims to work to improve living conditions, health insurance and ensure fair pay
Unionists 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 told Gulf Daily News 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.
"We have finalised our plans to set up a construction union in Bahrain that will work towards protecting the rights of thousands of semi-skilled migrant workers, who are often exploited," Kuwaitan said.
"The number of members is going to be huge and we are working on other areas within BFLUF to accommodate and help these workers.
"The planned union is expected to address issues on wages, safe accommodation, health, safety, insurance and other issues affecting construction workers.
"The challenge ahead of us it to encourage companies and even workers to be part of trade unions, as they tend to shy away or ignore us."
Kuwaitan said an election would be held to fill seats on the union's board, which would include both Bahrainis and expatriates.
"Our challenge is to form one body that represents all Bahraini and expatriate workforce in the construction sector," he told GDN.
Unions are banned in most of the Gulf, where the majority of workers, especially those in low paid jobs, are foreigners.
International union bodies have taken to launching campaigns to promote better working conditions for foreign labourers, including those working on World Cup infrastructure in Qatar.
BFLUF was launched in 2012 as an over-arching body bringing together smaller unions that represent specific worker groups.
It now has 18 trade unions under its umbrella and an estimated 20,000 members, including expatriates.
It also formed a National Union of Bahraini Pensioners in April this year to fight for the rights of Bahrain's 40,000 pensioners.