Bechtel sends some workers back, others ‘agree’ to work without overtime

Muscat - 

The strike by more than 450 workers of Bechtel-Enka-Bahwan (BEB) consortium, who are currently working on the Muscat International Airport expansion project took a fresh twist on Monday with many workers deciding to quit.

The main issue according to the workers is the 77-hour work week that they are currently obliged to follow and the lack of compensation for it. The prevailing labour law in the country only allows a maximum of 60 hours a week which includes 15 hours of overtime.

The workers receive a two-hour overtime payment for each 11-hour day of the work week. Though a five day week was officially announced as per the new labour guidelines, the workers say that they work on weekends for the full 11 hours on both days and are only paid four hours overtime as compensation.

Bechtel continued to refuse to comment on the issue when contacted.

Two workers told Muscat Daily on condition of anonymity that one worker has been missing since Sunday evening after he was ‘taken away’, while another was reportedly sent back to India on Monday.

Workers from the consortium’s Azaiba labour camp also said that some of their colleagues have decided to quit following a company offer to send back those who want to leave. About 250 workers are reported to have quit as they were not getting the salaries promised at their time of recruitment.

“There is a list of about 45 people, which has been pasted near the mess hall. They have been told that they should be ready to leave by 7-8pm for the airport,” said a forklift operator from Punjab, India adding that others have been given subsequent dates for their departure.

Another worker, who has chosen to leave for good, said that his name was not on the list and he was waiting with his bags packed for an updated list. “We have been told that only air tickets would be provided for those opting to leave.”

According to the workers, about 250 of them stayed back at the camp, while 600-700 went to work on Monday. “We have to report to work at 7am. Before that we go for breakfast around 5.30am in casual clothes.

But today, everyone was forced to be in work clothes for breakfast and were pressurised to take the bus for work immediately afterwards,” said a carpenter. He added that they were told that a police van was stationed nearby and that they would be taken away if they did not go for work.

A second forklift operator, who stayed back in the camp on Monday, said that he has opted to work for all seven days of the week with no extra benefits. “We are a group from Punjab, and we agreed among ourselves that we would work for seven days. As we have been here for a short time (since October), we need to earn something before we can think of packing our bags.”

There were also a few workers who alleged that they had been cheated from the start. “We were hired by an Indian recruiting company Sinclus, based in Mumbai, for a job with Bechtel. We thought that Bechtel was a reputed company and that our jobs would be hassle free.

“When we landed here, the facilities were not of the best standards but we thought things would improve as the project proceeded. Things have only got worse,” said a worker who hails from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, India.

When the Indian embassy was contacted by Muscat Daily, an official said that they had received no complaints from the workers and therefore could not comment on the issue.

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