DHAKA: Hundreds of striking Bangladeshi waste-sector laborers in Beirut on Thursday returned to work after reaching a pay agreement with their Lebanese employer.
Around 260 migrant workers from Bangladesh downed tools on April 27 when waste management company RAMCO began paying their wages in Lebanese pounds instead of US dollars.
“We had a successful meeting with the RAMCO authorities to resolve the crisis on Monday. The company agreed to pay the workers’ salaries as per the service contract,” Abdullah Al-Mamun, first secretary of the Bangladeshi Embassy in Beirut, told Arab News on Thursday.
Lebanon’s currency has been seriously affected by the country’s financial crisis, and the switch from dollar payments left the workers’ salaries way below the amount stated in their contracts of employment, meaning many were unable to send money back home.
The Bangladeshi RAMCO workers’ finances were further hit after their hours were reduced by 50 percent due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Lebanon. They claimed the combined blows had knocked their monthly wages down from $400 to $100.
When their strike action failed to yield results, the workers took their protest to the streets of the capital on May 14, but the demonstrations turned violent and riot police were called in.
Al-Mamun said: “I am really thankful to the Lebanese government for their timely intervention in this situation. They took it very seriously. During my meeting with Labor Minister Lamia Yamin on Monday, we got assurances of full cooperation for the protection of migrant workers’ rights.
“During our negotiations with RAMCO, the employer agreed to pay the workers for their full working period of 26 days a month, regardless of what their actual working days are.”
He added that the issue of arrears would be resolved when Lebanon had overcome the COVID-19 crisis.
The RAMCO workers said the deal reached with the company was temporary, as their salaries were now about $200 — still paid in Lebanese pounds, but on a better rate.
One of them, Hasan Ahmed, 30, who has been living in Lebanon for two years, said: “We resumed work on Thursday as the salary issue was addressed by the authorities. But other issues remain. In our company, camp food quality is poor.”
Another worker, Mohammed Sohel, 30, also complained about catering facilities at Al-Rumi labor camp in Beirut. “We are provided with fish and meat once a week, while on the other five days we get only rice and lentils mixed with carrot. We are not allowed to bring any food from outside the camp.”
Mohammed Elahi, 32, who has worked for RAMCO since 2017, said: “Sometimes we are asked to pay additional money from our salaries to get medical aid, even though according to our service contracts it should be provided by the company.”
Lebanese Embassy officials in Dhaka were unavailable for comment, but according to their data around 150,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers live and work in Lebanon.