BEIRUT (Dispatches) – Rafi, a migrant worker in Lebanon’s waste sector, has a wife and two young daughters back home in Bangladesh who depend on his monthly remittances to pay for school, food and other needs.
But for the past five months, Rafi says he has been unable to send any money back home, because the private waste-management company for which he works, RAMCO, slashed his wages from $300 a month to just over $100.
"It’s a very big problem, I can’t send my baby to school,” said Rafi, who asked Al Jazeera to refer to him by a pseudonym because he fears retribution.
Rafi is not alone in his hardships. Faced with a similarly untenable position, some 400 RAMCO employees - mostly from Bangladesh and India - took the unprecedented decision last month to walk out of the job until the company pays them what they are owed.
Though initially overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, the labor strike seeped into the headlines on May 12 when employees blocked roads outside RAMCO’s main housing and storage site on the outskirts of Beirut and prevented garbage trucks from leaving.
While some of the strikers have crossed the picket line and returned to work since the strike was called on April 3, at least 250 are standing their ground and refusing to go back on the job until their demands are met.
"In the history of Lebanon, I don’t think that migrant workers made a weeks-long strike and protested in such a way,” said Lea Bou Khater, a labor movement specialist and researcher at the Consultation and Research Institute.