United States accuses Gulf state of failing to protest workers' rights during 2011 uprising
The United States has accused Bahrain of failing to protect workers' rights in its response to a March 2011 general strike at the time of the Arab Spring and asked for formal consultations under a free trade pact.
"Ensuring that workers in Bahrain - and in other countries - can exercise their fundamental labour rights is a top priority for the Obama Administration," acting US Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis said in a statement.
Bahrain, a small island country in off the Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia, is home to the US Fifth Fleet.
Washington's request for talks came about two years after the AFL-CIO, the largest US labour organisation, first complained that the Bahrain government's brutal crackdown on the general strike violated commitments to protect workers' rights under the US-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement, which went into force in 2006.
The US Labour Department issued a report in December, some 20 months after the general strike, that faulted the Bahrain government for the actions it took.
"In the widespread dismissals after the March 2011 general strike, trade unionists and leaders were targeted for firing and, at times, criminal prosecution for their role in the strike, and Shia workers and political critics of the government faced discrimination," the US report said.
"The reinstatement process for these dismissed workers has raised additional concerns of violations of freedom of association and political and sectarian-based discrimination against Shia workers, which reflect the larger context of a deteriorating labor rights environment in Bahrain," it said.
Talks between the two countries are expected to begin within 30 days, unless both sides agree to a delay.
"My sincere hope is that these consultations will produce a concrete plan of action, based on the recommendations in the Labour Department's report that will strengthen labor protections in Bahrain and help prevent violations of workers' rights," said acting Labor Secretary Seth Harris.
A spokeswoman for the US Trade Representative's office said the United States was optimistic that the talks with Bahrain "will yield a satisfactory outcome."
If not, the next step would be to convene a joint US-Bahrain subcommittee on labour affairs, which could turn to a mediator or conciliator to resolve differences, she said.