South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

After Libya, Bangladeshi workers are now bearing the brunt of the political unrest in Bahrain where thousands of workers have either lost their jobs or are not getting their pay.

This comes at a time when more than 33,000 Bangladeshis have returned home from the trouble-torn Libya and many are waiting to flee the fierce fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Col Muammar Gaddafi, the embattled Libyan leader.

The most affected in Bahrain are those working in small companies involved in road and home construction in addition to an estimated 10,000 undocumented workers, Bangladesh embassy officials at the Bahraini capital Manama said.

“The military is gradually taking control to maintain the law and order; business is running low and the most affected are the low-income expatriates,” Muhammad Ibrahim, first secretary (labour) of the Bangladesh embassy there, told The Daily Star Friday.

The Gulf nation declared a three-month emergency on March 15 following weeks of anti-government protests demanding political reform.

One Bangladeshi and one Pakistani were killed in separate attacks by the protesters in Manama last month.

Another attack saw 20 more Bangladeshis injured, which created a sense of insecurity among the migrant workers, mostly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

In the wake of the political chaos in the kingdom, the Philippine government has stopped sending workers there.

Bangladesh has not taken that decision yet, but asked the recruiting agencies to be cautious in sending workers to Bahrain, said Zafar Ahmed Khan, secretary of expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment.

However, as the new recruitment goes on, many of those already in the Gulf country are not getting their pay or lost their job, as businesses run thin, said Ibrahim.

There are around 1.5 lakh Bangladeshis in Bahrain. Most of them work in small companies. Only a several thousand work in big construction firms and a few hundred work as professionals.

“The big companies are continuing their business but many small firms stopped operation,” Ibrahim told The Daily Star last week.

For the last few days, the Bangladesh mission in Manama has been receiving around 10 complaints every day that companies are not paying the workers, he said.

The Bangladesh embassy will soon talk to the employers about the non-payment. If that does not work, embassy officials will go to Bahrain’s labour ministry to seek redress.

The undocumented workers, who mostly work as day labourers, are facing the worst situation, as nobody is hiring them amid the political turmoil.

Against this backdrop, many want to come home.

The Bangladesh ambassador in Bahrain talked with the Bahrain’s prime minister who assured him of allowing the undocumented workers to return without any punishment, Ibrahim said.

Source: The Daily Star – 03.04.2011