Golf boss frees Indian workers in Bahrain

St Andrews businessman intervened when he heard of construction firm's travel ban on expats

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The Independent Online

The verdant greens of St Andrews are, both literally and figuratively, half a world away from the grim living conditions of Indian migrant workers in Bahrain. But a phone call from a businessman based in the ancestral home of golf has helped to prevent 100 labourers being "trapped" in the Gulf state 4,000 miles away.

Keith Haslam, managing director of a golf course construction firm based in the Scottish town, intervened in a row between the Bahraini firm Nass Corporation and Indian labourers after one of the men killed himself because he was unable to travel home because of visa restrictions imposed by Nass. Mr Haslam's intervention, say campaigners, tipped the balance in favour of the travel ban being lifted.

The story began on 28 June when Shanker Mariappan, from Tamil Nadu, launched a petition on the campaigning website to complain about a visa ban by Nass that prevented 100 Indians from leaving Bahrain. Mr Mariappan's brother Pasupathi, a labourer "sponsored" by Nass, committed suicide earlier this year because of the ban. He is one of 26 migrant workers to take their own lives in 2012. Part of the workers' contract prohibits them from travelling home.

Mr Mariappan tried to lobby Nass through the Indian embassy in Bahrain and the company, but without success. As thousands signed the petition, Avaaz contacted Braemar Golf, a St Andrews-based company that had worked with a Nass subsidiary, Nass Contracting, to build a golf course in Bahrain in 2008. Mr Haslam, the managing director of Braemar Golf, received a letter from Avaaz highlighting the Indians' plight and telephoned his counterpart at Nass Contracting, David Anthony, to express his concern. Within days, following talks with the Indian embassy in Manama, Nass agreed to lift the ban.

Avaaz's executive director, Ricken Patel, said: "Nass Corporation has refused to budge on this for years but in just three weeks, people power has brought an end to the construction company's cruel ban. This is a huge victory for 20,000 people who stood with Shanker Mariappan and pressured Nass Corporation to do the right thing."

Mr Haslam, 41, from Bolton, Lancashire, insisted yesterday he did not want to claim credit for Nass's change of policy, saying he only did what anyone would have done. "I made a phone call to say I had been contacted by Avaaz. I don't think I can claim a lot of credit for it. Anyone who received that letter would have picked up the phone."

Mr Haslam added that Nass had a "good reputation of being good to workers" and that the system was in place because workers who were "sponsored" by Nass to come into Bahrain sometimes went and worked for another employer. Nass announced it was lifting the travel ban on 100 Indian workers affected, and said in future no more workers would face visa restrictions.

Mr Mariappan said: "I didn't expect that this would happen – that my petition would go around the world. I can only say thanks to Avaaz."

In a statement, Nass Corporation said: "As a goodwill gesture and with a view to demonstrate their continued concern for the welfare of all of their workers, Nass Contracting confirmed that, notwithstanding the financial and non-financial detriment caused to the company over the years, as a policy the company will not hereafter institute any legal proceedings against runaway workers except in cases of criminal offence."