By SOMAN BABY Published: 26th September 2006

WORKERS embroiled in a dispute with their company following the deaths of 16 colleagues in a labour camp blaze have still not been fully paid, it was revealed yesterday. Now the Labour Ministry is to set up a working group to tackle outstanding issues with Royal Tower Construction (RTC).

About 200 workers have resumed work after a gap of a month, even though the company has yet to implement the terms it had earlier agreed with the Labour Ministry.

Sixteen workers employed by RTC died when their labour camp in Gudaibiya was gutted by fire on July 30.

The survivors were then moved to a temporary accommodation in Askar and later to a permanent camp approved by the Labour Ministry in Tubli.

However, the company has not yet fulfilled its promise to settle workers' outstanding dues.

The issue was taken up by Indian Ambassador Balkrishna Shetty during his meeting with Labour Minister Dr Majeed Al Alawi yesterday.

"The minister agreed to set up a working group to study the whole situation," Mr Shetty told the GDN.

"The company, in violation of an agreement it had reached earlier with the Labour Ministry, has not yet provided us with a list of its employees or their pay slips.

"The minister expressed his concern and said a working group would now look into the issues, including the legal matters involved."

Dr Al Alawi expressed his ministry's keenness to maintain the safety of all workers, either citizens or expatriates.

"Our officials always exert maximum efforts to improve work and labour camp environment and conditions," he added.

Mr Shetty also told the minister that a large number of construction companies were still flouting safety regulations by transporting workers in open trucks.

"I also brought to the attention of the minister that many employers keep in custody their employees' passports, which is totally illegal," he added.

"We have made it clear several times that the passport is the property of the issuing government and it should always be in the custody of the individuals for whom it is issued."

The meeting, at the Labour Ministry, was attended by Labour Under Secretary Shaikh Abdulrahman bin Abdulla Al Khalifa and senior ministry officials as well as the Indian Embassy second secretary R Raghunathan.

Meanwhile, Co-ordination Committee of Indian Associations (CCIA) general secretary John Iype, who was involved in negotiations for the RTC workers' with the Labour Ministry and the company, said the employer had failed to honour his commitment to the workers.

"The company has not yet given any compensation to the families of 16 workers who were killed in the tragedy," he told the GDN.

"Eleven workers who were repatriated by the company to their home in India were given only part payment of their dues and air tickets only up to Mumbai.

"The company has also not yet settled bills worth BD4,000 to two restaurants which provided food to the workers in the Askar camp for 27 days last month."

These are all violations of the agreement reached by the company with the Labour Ministry, said Mr Iype.

© Gulf Daily News