Bahrain refutes US claims on labour abuses

Gulf kingdom denies it has fallen short of commitments in trade deal with United States
Bahrain refutes US claims on labour abuses
Flashback to Bahrain uprising in early 2011 when hundreds of Alba workers were sacked. (Getty Images - for illustrative purposes only)
By Andy Sambidge
Fri 21 Dec 2012 09:37 AM

Bahrain has refuted claims in a US Labour Department report that the Gulf kingdom has fallen short of commitments to recognise labour rights as part of a free trade agreement with the United States.

Officials said in a statement published by Bahrain News Agency that they had taken "necessary measures" to reinstate all workers who had been dismissed from both public and private sectors.

The US Labour Department said in a statement that "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".

Its report also claimed that the reinstatement process had "raised additional concerns of violations of freedom of association and political and sectarian-based discrimination against Shia workers".

The report stopped short of recommending legal action under the US-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement, which went into force in 2006. Instead it called for consultations between the two countries on labour rights concerns.

US Labour Secretary Hilda Solis said: "It is our duty to ensure that trading partners meet their commitments to labor standards in free trade agreements.

"We are hopeful that through engagement with our trading partner we will find a solution that is good for workers both in the United States and Bahrain."

The six-year-old trade agreement waives tariffs on industrial and consumer products for Bahrain, a key US ally and home to the Navy's 5th Fleet.

In response, Bahrain said that 98 percent of dismissed workers have been reinstated and their cases resolved.

Samira Ibrahim bin Rajab, spokesperson for the Minister of State for Information Affairs, added that the remaining issues were to be "addressed through the adopted administrative or judiciary procedures in accordance with the laws of the Kingdom of Bahrain".

She claimed the statements made in the US Department of Labour’s report were not updated and did not include any developments achieved after August, although many cases were resolved after that date.

"We believe that with the issuance of the new labour law in 2012, Bahrain has met all its obligations concerning the freedom of forming societies, regulations and collective labor negotiation, in line with the labour article mentioned in the Free Trade Agreement."

In February, the Gulf Kingdom's Labour Ministry said a total of 937 workers sacked for their roles in last year's Bahrain uprisings had been reinstated.

Out of a total of 2,462 employees who were dismissed, another 608 have been welcomed back by companies and are in the process of being reinstated, the ministry said.

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