By Elizabeth Broomhall
Thousands of workers yet to return to work despite pledge to overturn firings
Angry Bahrainis sacked from state jobs during last year’s uprising plan to gather outside the Ministry of Labour today to protest over the government’s failure to reinstate them.
Bahrain's biggest trade union, the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU), is also holding a meeting today to shed light on the progress being made, local media reported.
More than 2,000 workers were laid off amid the Arab Spring protests in March 2011, as punishment for supporting pro-democracy demonstrations, US-based Human Rights Watch said.
The Gulf kingdom pledged to reinstate workers after a probe into the government-led crackdown on protesters found police guilty of using excessive force and torture.
The rights report, carried out by a Bahrain-appointed fact-finding commission, recommended all employees in government or state-linked firms be allowed to return to their jobs.
“They are protesting today. The commission said they would send them back, but very few have returned,” said Nabeel Rajab, vice-president at Bahrain Center for Human Rights. “Even those who have returned, they have been downgraded and had their salaries cut. They are still punishing those people because of their opinion.
“Everybody expected them to return to work the next day [after the report], but now it’s more than 40 days since the report came out, and still we have thousands of people left jobless.”
Inspired by "Arab Spring" uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets in February and March demanding curbs on the power of the ruling Al-Khalifa family and an end to perceived discrimination.
The pro-democracy movement was suppressed with the help of military forces brought in from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. But small, low-level protests have persisted on an almost daily basis.
At least 40 people died in the violence, drawing international condemnation of Bahrain’s management of the protests. The UK suspended weapons sales to the Gulf state while the US has said a pending $53m arms sale will hinge in part on the monarchy’s response to the recommendations made in the rights report.
Bahrain has since rolled out a reform drive that it says is aimed at protecting rights and freedoms while enforcing order, removing its chief of security and hiring former British and US police officers to supervise a reform of its security forces.
But Rajab said more far-reaching measures were needed to convince protestors that the Bahrain government is sincere about reform.
“A lot of damage has been done; to repair that you need to pay a high price, but I don’t think there is the political will,” he said. “A lot of people among the regime need to be changed, including members of the ruling family, who were responsible for the human rights violations. But the government of Bahrain don’t want to accept [that they were wrong].”