Socialist Worker

Building workers win first legal strike in Gulf state

Issue No. 1967

Some 600 construction workers in the Gulf state of Qatar were celebrating last week after they won the first legal strike in the country’s history.

The workers — mostly Indians, Pakistanis and Nepalese — had gone on strike illegally in the past, stopping work and demonstrating outside the Indian embassy.

A new Qatari constitution came into force in June last year that guaranteed the right to strike. Only three countries in the region — Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain — recognise the right to strike and form trade unions.

The strikers, working for four private engineering firms, demanded that salary arrears were paid and that their residency papers were sorted out.

“We’ve been trying to get the money owed to us for months and this is our last resort,” one of the strikers, a 36 year old Pakistani electrician, told the Reuters news agency.

“But this is risky, because each day not worked is a day not paid,” he added. He had been promised 1000 riyals (£150) a month, but had only been received 600 riyals.

Nevertheless the risk paid off. On Tuesday of last week management agreed to pay one month’s salary arrears immediately and settle the rest by the end of October.

The companies also promised to regularise residence permits within two weeks and sort out health cards for the workers.

The strike was settled with mediation from officials at the Indian embassy and Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee.

High oil and gas prices have fuelled a construction boom in Qatar, with most of the work done by cheap foreign labour.

The country’s overall population is 740,000 — though less than 150,000 of these are Qatari nationals.

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Sat 10 Sep 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1967
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