By Begena P PRADEEP Published: 6th February 2008

HUNDREDS of workers at one of Bahrain's biggest contracting companies, who went on strike on Monday, have rejected an initial deal tabled by management.

More than 700 Almoayyed Contracting labourers continued their strike for a second day yesterday as they held out for a better offer.

The company has said it would raise the basic salaries of all its 2,000 workers by BD10 each and give them an extra BD5 for food.

However, the workers at its East Eker labour camp have turned down the offer and are holding out for a BD40 pay rise.

The Asian workers downed tools on Monday demanding better pay, saying they were paid between BD60 and BD85.

However, the company has denied this and claimed their salaries range from BD75 to BD150.

Company human resources and administration department head, Bassam Ahmed Ali, yesterday described the strike as unfair and said the workers did not deserve any pay rise.

He added that the BD15 increase was offered out of "charity".

"We are most fair to our employees and will not ignore any of their genuine requests," he said.

"But this strike is not fair and neither is their demand for a pay rise because they are being paid the most competitive wages in the industry and they know it.

"Still, the company has offered to raise the basic salary of all our 2,000 workers in various camps by BD10, as well as another BD5 food allowance.

"We are not offering this because we believe they deserve it - it is only our charity.

"They are not eligible for this because they signed contracts with us agreeing to the salary they get now."

The majority of the striking workers are Indians, but they are joined by colleagues from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Although the workers at the East Eker labour camp continued the strike yesterday, those at the company's other camps reported for work as normal.

The striking workers claim the company has a reputation for offering some of the most competitive salaries in the industry, but only for skilled and office staff.

They also complain they are feeling the pinch of inflation and the soaring value of currencies at home, which means they can send home less money than before.

Workers also claimed other companies in Bahrain were improving the salaries of labourers.

Mr Ali said workers originally appeared to accept the company's offer, but later changed their minds.

"First they seemed to have accepted it, but later they rejected it saying it was not enough," he said.

"Each worker is demanding different amounts and we asked them to select a spokesman from among them to make communication easier, but they have not done this.

"Everybody speaks at once and it's almost impossible to understand them.

"One worker will say BD100 while another says BD120."

The company has even challenged its workers to find a similar firm in Bahrain that pays more than it does, offering to match its salaries.

"We have done our best to solve this issue in an amicable manner and the rest is up to them," he said.

He also claimed that a Labour Ministry official who visited the camp had suggested legal action could be taken against the workers if they don't go back to their jobs.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Embassy community welfare counsellor Habib Gilani, who also visited the camp yesterday, told the GDN he advised workers not to strike.

Problems

"There are about 20 Pakistani workers, but we spoke to all irrespective of nationality since it is a common problem," he said.

"They told us that their basic pay was only BD60 to BD85 and said they never got an increase, although many had been at the company from two to six years.

"They claim that BD1 is being cut from their salaries by the banks as transaction charges.

"The workers also say those who joined the company recently are being paid better than others because no one wants to come here for the earlier salary, due to rising costs."

Mr Gilani also spoke to company officials, who he said assured him that they were taking the matter seriously.

"I have also requested the company not to take this issue in a negative way and they seem to have understood," he said.

An Indian Embassy official said the matter was between the workers and the company, adding that the embassy did not want to get involved. begena@gdn.com.bh

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