Bahrain committed to protecting workers' rights: minister
Dubai : Bahrain is committed to protecting the rights of all its workers, both Bahrainis and foreigners, according to the country's Minister for Labour Majeed Al Alawi.
"In my position as the Minister of Labour, I have always been - just like all members of my team in the ministry - keen on protecting all the rights of the workers - nationals and foreigners - equally," he told the Gulf Daily News.
The comments come close on the heels of a spate of labour strikes in the country's construction industry this month over pay hikes and protests against his own comments about an 'Asian tsunami' in the Gulf.
"We have teams who inspect the labour camps and make sure they are up to the standards and the human, health and safety rights of the labourers are preserved and we have other teams who do the same at workplaces," the minister told the newspaper.
He said that, through ministerial decrees over the last couple of years, his ministry had banned work in outdoor construction sites during the hot hours of July and August and ensured that salaries were paid through banks so that workers got their full salaries and on time.
"The ministry is working now on a law to oblige employers to provide workers with a dignified and suitable ways of transportation to and from the worksites," he said.
Bahrain has been hit by a series of labour strikes with overseas workers, many of them Indians, demanding salary hikes given the country's growing inflation and fall in the value of the dollar-pegged Bahraini dinar (BD) and appreciation of the Indian currency.
The Indian embassy in the country had recently issued a notification fixing the minimum wage of unskilled Indian workers at BD100 a month.
There are around 275,000 Indians in that Gulf nation.
The minister said the country's Labour Relations Directorate is dealing with all labour related disputes.
"We also have the Labour Relations Directorate, which deals with all the arbitrations and complaints of the labour and helps solve them, beside the efforts made to change the law of sponsorship in the country to make the foreign workers under the sponsorship of the government and not the employers, which will give them more freedom in changing their jobs in the country," Al Alawi said.
The minister also said he was shocked by charges of human rights violations levelled against him by human rights activists for his 'Asian tsunami' comments in a section of the media about the presence of a growing number of Asian workers in the Gulf.
Al Alawi was quoted as telling a section of the media last month that the presence of almost 17 million foreign workers in the Gulf, mostly from the Asian subcontinent, represented "a danger worse than the atomic bomb or an Israeli attack".
"I am not exaggerating that the number will reach almost 30 million in 10 years from now," he was quoted as telling the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat.
"If the Gulf governments do not watch out for this tsunami of foreign labourers, the fate of this region is very worrying," he had been quoted as saying.
Rights activists and organizations reacted strongly and said his remarks "violated all tenets of human rights and deserved to be condemned in the strongest possible terms".
"Asians are building the country's roads and buildings, they are the ones who are dying at construction sites and they are the ones who have left their families behind and are working in Bahrain," Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society international relations director Faisal Fulad said.
"They deserve to be better treated."
In his interview to the Gulf Daily News, the minister said, "My question to all of them is: 'Have you really seen my interview on (Qatar-based) Al Jazeera channel or read 'yourselves' the article in Asharq Al Awsat newspaper, or did you base your statements on what you've heard about them?
"First of all, when I talked about the danger of the increased number of foreign workers in the region, I was talking about the danger from a demographic and cultural point of view, unlike what the human rights activists have claimed in the article."
He said that with the number of overseas workers in the Gulf nations continuously increasing the citizens of these nations would find themselves a minority.
"One day, those workers who have worked hard in our countries - and I am the first to appreciate their efforts and labour - and who have served and lived here for long years, will have the right to get a permanent citizenship.
"So, what will happen if those workers get their citizenships and become nationals in the host countries?" he asked.
"If the foreign workers represent the majority in our countries and we Gulf nationals become a minority in our own countries and 'foreign workers' turn 'citizens', wouldn't that change all the demographic and cultural outlook of the region?" he said, adding that he had a right to express his own views and that in no way diminished his or the government's commitment to protecting the rights of workers.
"Expressing my views regarding the demographic shape of the region does not make me a violator of human rights... I have all respect for all hardworking people in the country and my mission is to protect them and ensure their well-being."