Workers on strike at Muscat International Airport

Muscat: A large number of Indian labourers are on strike since Thursday at the much delayed Muscat International Airport project.

They are demanding their wages according to the new Manpower Ministry regulations. The ‘enabling work’ of the new Muscat International Airport started in 2006 but has been delayed for various reasons, including two tropical cyclones.

The Transport and Communications Minister, Dr Ahmad Bin Mohammed Al Futaisi, had told media last October that the work was on fast track now and hope to complete by 2014.

Over 1,000 Indian workers have been on strike and even chanted slogans outside the company camp in Azaiba. The workers are employed to work on the terminal building for a joint consortium of Bechtel-Enka-BEC.

According to diplomatic sources and social workers, the striking workers were just over 1,000. However, a company worker claimed that they were nearly 2,500 striking workers.

“We are nearly 3,000 labourers working on the airport terminal building out of which almost 2,500 are Indians and all are on strike,” Thomas K., a striking worker, told Gulf News.

“We work six days a week but according to the new labour law it should be a five-day week,” he said, claiming that instead of paying overtime for an extra day, the company had deducted from their salary agreed in the labour contract.

A representative of the Indian embassy spent almost seven hours on Saturday to work out a solution between the striking workers and the management. “There is an offer from the management and it now between them and the workers to reach an agreement over the dispute,” an embassy official told Gulf News.

“The Indian embassy officials did try to intervene for over 1,000 workers on Saturday,” confirmed P.M. Jabir, Social Welfare Secretary with the Indian Social Club. Thomas further said that the workers were being confused in the mathematical web.

“They are calculating the hours for the year and presenting lower wages, which is not acceptable to us,” he said, adding that they know the simple maths of weekly hours since the new labour law came into force last year.

According to the new labour law, the companies must follow five-day week (45 hours a week) and a maximum of 60-hour a week for which workers must be paid overtime. “We have been told that if the company offer is not acceptable we can leave and we are ready to go,” another worker told Gulf News on the condition of anonymity.

The Manpower Ministry official also rushed to the camp to talk to the workers and management to bring about a solution. The slogan shouting by striking workers continued outside the camp at the time of going to the press.

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