Striking Bangladeshi waste laborers in Beirut agree back-to-work pay deal

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Bangladeshi workers of Lebanese waste management company RAMCO protest over pay cuts in Beirut on May 14. (Photo courtesy: Hasan Ahmed)
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A copy of a Bangladeshi worker's service contract with RAMCO. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 May 2020

Striking Bangladeshi waste laborers in Beirut agree back-to-work pay deal

  • 260 workers saw salaries drop from $400 to $100 when employer started paying wages in Lebanese pounds

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.


India faces worst locust crisis in decades

Updated 05 June 2020

India faces worst locust crisis in decades

  • Indo-Pak border a breeding ground for bug; worst attack in over 20 years, says expert

NEW DELHI: Suresh Kumar was sipping tea on the balcony of his Jaipur house on Friday when the sun suddenly disappeared. Thinking it was probably a black cloud that was filtering out the daylight, he looked up and saw swarms of locusts covering the sky of the capital city of the western Indian state of Rajasthan.

Within a few minutes, short-horned grasshoppers were everywhere —walls, balconies and nearby trees — as they forced people to take refuge in their houses.

“It was unprecedented,” Kumar, who lives in Jaipur’s walled city area, told Arab News on Thursday. “Never before have I witnessed such a scene. Suddenly millions of aliens invaded our locality. Some residents of the neighborhood tried to bang some steel plates to shoo them off, but the jarring sound did not make much of an impact. However, the swarms left the area within an hour or so.”

More than a thousand kilometers away, in the Balaghat district of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, farmer Dev Singh had a similar experience, although the bugs not only occupied his farmhouse, they destroyed the budding leaves of different kinds of pulses which he had sown in his field.

“Only a few weeks ago I harvested the wheat crop,” he told Arab News. “In a way, I’m lucky that the locusts have come now … otherwise the damage would have been much greater,” but he added that “with the pulse plant damaged in good measure, the yield will not be great this year.”

His area has been cleared of the locusts after the intervention of local authorities, which sprayed chemicals to kill the bugs and blared out sirens to shoo them off.

India is already grappling with an alarming surge of coronavirus cases and struggling to cope with the devastation caused by a recent cyclone. The country is also dealing with rising unemployment figures after more than 100 million people went jobless due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is facing security issues, too, in the form of a seething border dispute with China. The locust invasion has added to beleaguered India’s laundry list of woes.

Scientists said it was a serious crisis.

“This is the worst locust attack in more than two decades,” Dr. K. L. Gurjar, of the Faridabad-based Locust Warning Organization, told Arab News. “Compared to the past, these locusts are younger and have traveled a longer distance. This should be a cause of concern. The states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh will be badly impacted. We are controlling and containing the situation on a daily basis.”

According to media reports, around 50,000 hectares of farmland have been destroyed by desert locusts in the two states during the last four weeks.

“The problem will persist until the invasion of swarms continues from across the border in Pakistan and Iran. The Indo-Pak border has become the breeding ground for the bug,” Gurjar added.

But he remained hopeful that the country would get rid of the menace through its measures, despite the present danger.

“There is a danger of locusts remaining alive for a longer period, though we are hopeful to ultimately sort them out.”

The Jawaharlal Nehru Agriculture University (JNAU) of Jabalpur has also been monitoring the situation in Madhya Pradesh, noting that locusts damage the crop completely wherever they go.

“Desert locusts stay immobile throughout the night and their movement begins again in the morning and they fly along the direction of the wind,” JNAU’s Dr. Om Gupta told Arab News. “Wherever they find shelter, they damage the crops in totality. In some areas, locusts have created havoc.”

She added that spray was generally used in the evening or early morning to kill the bugs. “They breed very fast and we focus on killing their eggs. What we are dealing with is nothing short of a catastrophe, and we are not going to get respite from this anytime soon.”