Demand grows for worker unions

Organisations in Bahrain and Beirut are backing calls for an international body to protect workers’ rights

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By  Tim Wood Published  May 27, 2006

Further calls have been made for the formation of an international trade union network to help migrant workers in the UAE. The Labour Minister, Ali bin Abdullah Al Ka’abi, confirmed in April that union representation would be allowed in the UAE by the end of the year. The decision followed a strike by more than 2,500 construction labourers working on the Burj Old Town site in March, which attracted worldwide media attention. However, Beirut-based Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI), which was set up to safeguard the rights of local and national workers, and the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) have now added their support for a union to be formed to represent workers in the UAE. BWI Arab countries education coordinator, Mustapha Said, believes the launch of a trade union network would help increase dialogue between different trade unions and create international solidarity with construction workers. It would, he added, also help develop the capacity of local unions to deal with the influx of migrant workers and incorporate them into local unions. “There is a role [for trade unions] in educating workers about where they are going, and what are the laws, about health and safety,” said Said. “The most important thing is that workers have the right to form unions and improve their working and living conditions.” Abdulla Hussain, from the GFBTU, added: “Bahrain has led the way in giving ground to expatriate labour with legislation brought in four years ago, but many workers are ignorant of unions rights and employers try to keep them in the dark. “Many are afraid they will be kicked out because of intimidation by employers.” Bahrain has had a trade union in place since 2002, while although Kuwait allows trade unions, membership is restricted to the country’s nationals.

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