Bahraini firms fire hundreds of strikers

Opposition group says mostly Shi'ite workers who went on strike to support protests lose their jobs
Bahraini firms fire hundreds of strikers
Protesters in Pearl Square, Bahrain. (Getty Images)
By Reuters
Tue 05 Apr 2011 09:50 PM

Bahraini firms have fired

hundreds of mostly Shi'ite Muslim workers who went on strike to

support pro-democracy protesters, an opposition group said on

Tuesday, in what appeared to be part of a government crackdown.

Bahrain's unions called a general strike on March 13 to

support Shi'ite protesters against the Sunni-led government who

for weeks occupied a square in the capital until security forces

moved in on March 16. The strike was called off on March 22.

Officials at Batelco, Gulf Air, Bahrain

Airport Services and APM Terminals Bahrain said they had laid

off more than 200 workers due to absence during the strike.

"It's illegal in Bahrain and anywhere else in the world to

just strike. You have to give two weeks' notice to your

employer," said one executive who did not wish to be named.

Bahrain's main Shi'ite opposition group, Wefaq, said it

estimated that more than 1,000 workers had been laid off and

that most were Shi'ites.

Some analysts said large-scale dismissals of Shi'ite workers

could be politically risky by speeding up the disintegration of

Bahraini society into Shi'ite and Sunni enclaves.

"They're basically punishing people to the degree that they

can, and I think in the long term this is a very risky strategy

for them to take," IHS Global Insight's Riani said.

"Unemployment has its effects on social relationships, the

well-being of the society," said Wefaq member Jasim Husain.

Government officials could not be reached for comment.

In Geneva, the International Labour Organization (ILO)

denounced the mass sackings and "other repressive measures".

The United Nations agency said it would organize a

high-level mission to Bahrain as soon as possible to talk to the

government and to worker and employer organisations.

Bahrain has increased its arrests of bloggers, activists and

Shi'ites, with more than 300 detained and dozens missing since

last month's crackdown on the pro-democracy demonstrations.

Bahrain saw the worst sectarian clashes between its Shi'ite

majority population and the Sunni-ruled security forces since

the 1990s after Shi'ite protesters, inspired by uprisings in

Tunisia and Egypt, took to the streets in February.

The clashes have killed at least 13 protesters and four

police and prompted Bahrain to declare martial law and invite

troops by Sunni Gulf neighbours, who are worried of the regional

influence of Shi'ite neighbour Iran.

Gala Riani of risk analysts IHS Global Insight said the

sackings showed that the government felt under fire. "This

shows, to some degree, both how nervous they (the rulers) are

and also how confident they are," she said.

"They feel like they've got the security situation under

control, so they can fire people in the dozens or the hundreds

without risking renewed mass protests."

After security forces crushed the protests, the government

launched a crackdown on opposition activists, Shi'ite villages

and media such as the only opposition newspaper, Al Wasat.

It suspended the newspaper on Sunday, accusing it of

falsifying news about the unrest, and replaced the editor. It

resumed printing on Monday, the same day the government arrested

and expelled two journalists, both Iraqis. A government

spokeswoman said Al Wasat had broken press laws.

More lay-offs are expected at Bahrain Petroleum (Bapco)

which has fired the head of its workers' union. Workers fear

that hundreds could be sacked at the company after parliament

launched an investigation headed by a Sunni hardline deputy.

"Everybody is afraid," a worker who did not wish to be named

told Reuters.

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