U.S. Department of Labor Investigation Finds Bahrain FTA Violations

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First applauds the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) report into violations of the U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement (FTA).  The long-awaited report confirms that since early last year Bahraini trade union leaders were targeted for dismissal and criminal prosecution and that thousands of people were dismissed on the grounds of discrimination, facts that organized labor groups and NGOs have documented for some time. “This report details evidence of past and recent labor violations and makes 12 recommendations for what Bahrain should to do to get things right,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “It’s a useful advocacy tool with solid guidance about next steps, but the Bahraini government doesn’t have a stellar record on implementing recommendations. The Department of Labor should be vigilant in monitoring progress in the wake of this review.” In April 2011, the AFL/CIO filed  a complaint with the DOL alleging violations of the Labor Chapter of the U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement that was adopted in 2006.  The DOL’s report, released yesterday, notes that some progress has been made in returning many of the estimated 2,700 people dismissed from work and that the Bahrain Labor Ministry worked with the International Labor Organization (ILO) earlier this year to establish a Tripartite Agreement between the ministry, the Chamber of Commerce and the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU). “All but a few hundred of the workers dismissed following the March 2011 general strike have now been reinstated,” the report stated. It also notes that many of those people back to work have been assigned to inferior jobs and have not always received restitution for lost wages they are owed. The report found that the Bahraini government “has taken no steps to directly ban discrimination in employment and occupation in its laws,” and a “deterioration in the labor rights environment in Bahrain, marked by restrictions on trade union freedoms and political and sectarian-based discrimination against Shia workers.” Among the DOL report’s key findings are that Bahrain appears “to have acted inconsistently with its commitments [under the FTA]by failing to strive to ensure that freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively are recognized and protected by its law” and to “strive to ensure that its labor laws provide for standards consistent with the rights of association and to organize and bargain collectively.” Human Rights First notes that, compared to other areas of human rights concern, the government of Bahrain has made some serious attempts to resolve its labor-related problems.  “This progress is welcome, but it does not go far enough. The United States should now open talks with Bahraini authorities to address concerns identified in this report,” Dooley observed. Bahrain’s initial response to the DOL’s findings and recommendations indicated that progress may be challenging.  In a public reaction to the report, Minister for Information Samira Rajab claimed “Bahrain has met all its obligations concerning the freedom of forming societies, regulations and collective labor negotiation, in line with the labor article mentioned in the Free Trade Agreement …The Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain requests from the U.S. Administration to commit to truth and to treat this [provided] information with integrity.” Dooley notes that one of the report’s key recommendations is that the Government of Bahrain should undertake a “review of all criminal cases against trade unionists and union leaders and drop outstanding charges for those whose charges do not consist of advocacy of violence and stem from organizing, participating in, or encouraging the March 2011 general strike, consistent with the BICI recommendation…” Mahdi Abu Deeb, President of the Bahrain Teachers Association, is one of the union leaders arrested and tortured last year. He was sentenced by a military court after a sham trial is and is currently jailed, serving a five-year sentence on politically-motivated charges. “The true test of whether Bahrain is serious about labor reform will be how things change for Bahraini workers, and whether prisoners like Mahdi Abu Deeb are released,” said Dooley


Published on December 21, 2012


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