If you visit Dubai, the chances are you've seen the mammoth buildings. If you visit the Middle East, the chances are you've seen the mammoth buildings. Repetition? Yes. Most buildings, hotels, banks, large corporate headquarters and ridiculous looking palm shaped apartments in the Arab world are built by migrant builders, mainly from South Asia.
These workers don't have a great time. Sometimes when the work is finished, they are held against their will. But in an interesting development in Middle East hotspot Bahrain, which has been plagued by a "small civil war" for the last 18 months, a change is coming.
Currently there are more than 100 Indians stuck in Bahrain, most of them from the Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh states of India. Like many migrant workers in the Middle East, most have not seen their families in six years. Some, if not all, live in disgusting conditions. Some have not been allowed to leave the country. You think I'm joking?
Nass Contracting, which handles construction in Bahrain, had obtained a court order that banned these workers from travelling outside Bahrain. How you ask? Well the company had described the Indian employees as "run-away workers" because they were "absconding from work without notice." Cases like this happen all the time in the Middle East. Migrant workers often get promised a new land of riches, but really they're just building nice shiny buildings for the rich, end up living in awful conditions and left to rot. In a game-changing move however, Nass says it will drop all cases against these employees as "a matter of a good-will gesture."
Nass will want to receive positive press from this decision after a poor blacksmith, Pasupathi Mariappan, who worked with Nass Contracting, hanged himself at a public park in Bahrain after he was allegedly legally prohibited from flying home. He became the 24th immigrant Indian worker to kill himself this year in Bahrain, according to an official in the Indian embassy.
NDTV conducted an investigation and interviewed Pasupathi's family. They say he told them that "workers were not paid what was promised and they were left with nothing to send home". Migrant workers often come to the Middle East for building work to send money back to their families in India. Pasupathi had been recruited by one of the many employment agencies that provides cheap blue-collar labour to the Middle East.
The company's court order was unique. They obtained a court order a few years ago that would prevent workers from traveling abroad on the grounds that shifting companies and attempting to return home after realising the job wasn't what was billed, would be a breach of contract. If they decided to quit the company, they were legally bound to pay fines between 50,000 rupees and a lakh NDTV reported. The families of some of the workers say they only learnt about the court order only when they were stopped at the airport, ready to fly home.
The new battle with the Bahraini courts and Nass began when Pasupathi's brother, who is an Indian government employee, organised an online petition two weeks ago. Since then, more than 20,000 people signed up with Avaaz, an international group of human rights activists, began raising the issue in the UK.
The company strongly denied that it paid workers less than what was agreed upon in their employment papers and has agreed to stop the ruling.
Around 400,000 Indians work in Bahrain and this case could see a rise in that number falling, having a significant effect on building construction in the small Gulf nation.