Thousands of South Asian workers strike at Oman airport

Workers demand better safety conditions after employee struck and killed by bus

MUSCAT, OMAN (Reuters) — Thousands of South Asian labourers working on the expansion of Muscat airport downed tools on Tuesday in a rare strike to demand better safety conditions after a worker died in an accident, a company official and workers said.

The work stoppage is likely to cause further delay to the US$1.8 billion contract to build a new terminal, which the Omani government awarded in 2010 to BEB, a joint venture of U.S. company Bechtel and Turkey's Enka.

An Indian worker died late on Monday when he was run over by a bus belonging to the contractor, workers and a BEB official told Reuters.

"We will not go to work today unless our company assures us that they will revise safety standards in our workplace," Mohan Raman, a worker with BEB, told Reuters.

"We have 10,000 workers and most of them are on strike," said the BEB official, who asked not to be named. "We are improving safety standards to make sure such accidents will never happen again."

A BEB statement sent to Reuters later on Tuesday did not refer to a strike, but said the company had "suspended work today (Tuesday) in respect for the deceased employee which is customary in the Indian culture.

"An investigation is being carried out by the company and the local authorities," the statement said, adding that work would resume on Wednesday.

The extension of Muscat airport was originally scheduled to be completed by end of this year, but officials said last year it was expected to take until the end of 2014 because of soft ground in the middle of the new runway.

Strikes are rare in Oman and other Gulf Arab states, which employ million of South Asians, mostly blue-collar construction workers. Most are over pay.

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