Continuing hostile policy of the authorities against the independent institutions of civil society in Bahrain

14 October 2012

Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses concern about the continuous crackdown by the Bahraini authorities on independent civil society institutions which has increased since February 2011, particularly against the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions; one of the institutions concerned with defending the interests of workers and that is legal and enjoys strong international relations and has a long history of union work for decades.

The details of targeting the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions by the Authorities indicates that they are trying hard by different means to hit and break up the trade unions and dividing them on political and sectarian basis, which harm the interests of the working class and which is incompatible with the ideals of human rights guaranteed by international conventions, at the same time these practices ensure the Authorities that its domination of the workers fate and punishing or depriving them of their rights illegally at any time.

Since the outbreak of Bahrain revolution on 14 February 2011, trade unionists, workers and employees have been exposed to several violations; some of which are arrest and sacking or suspension from work and cutting wages without the legal right, deprivation from promotions and employment rights, either because of their political opinions and expressing their views and their sympathy with the peaceful national movement or for reasons based on sectarian discrimination. There are still more than 400 employees out of their jobs because of the unfair dismissal or suspension from work. [1]

Fragmentation of labor unity and the creation of pro-government unions

Because of the major role played by the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions in defense of the rights of sacked employees that resulted from the national movement in February 2011 and its aftermath, BCHR has followed and monitored several practices and procedures of the authorities that clearly reveal targeting the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions, among these procedures is the issuance of a law that justify the multiplicity of trade unions in a single institution and it also allows these unions or some of them to create a union of workers. The king of Bahrain has issued a Decree Law No. 35 of 2011 amending some provisions of the Trade Unions Act [2]; allowing freedom of multiplicity of trade union in the single institution, this law itself involves several problematic issues some of which are constitutional as it turned out that this law aims to break unions and to create unions loyal to the government and another pro-government union that plays a role in making conflicts with the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions and that adopts the official view of not admitting workers strike and that prevent the return of those sacked to their work. [3 ]

In 18 July 2012 a new union of Bahrain Trade Unions was established or the so-called “The Free Union”, which is pro-authorities. It is worth mentioning that the six core Bahraini unions of this new trade union are: Gulf Petrochemical Industries Co syndicate – ALBA workers' union – Bankers Syndicate – GARMCO Company National Union of Workers - Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco) Free Trade Union of Workers - The National Union of Workers of Bahrain Airport Services (BAS). This pro-government union faced legal problems due to its violation of a clause in the new law of multiple unions. This clause states that in order to form a union the trade unions should be similar, where it says in Article No. (8) subsection (1) of the Legislative Decree No. 35 of 2011 the above-mentioned "It is permitted for every two or more of similar labor unions to establish among themselves a trade union confederation, and the establishment and joining of a trade union occurs after the approval of a majority of the members of the General Assembly of the trade union". This wasn’t met by the pro-government unions or by its core unions as they are not similar and did not even get the slightest approval of the General Assembly. However, the desire of the Authorities was clear in publicity of this union despite breaking the law. This was clear due to the direct support of the Bahraini Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman in the publicity of the ‘Free Union’ [4] and in exerting pressure and intimidation of the Ministry of Labour which tried to align the new Union publicity and law.

Slander and incitement through the media

The authorities has not only put a law of multiplicity of trade unions into legislation, but also few weeks ago on 12 September 2012 Bahrain TV broadcasted a program that hosted the so-called ‘Free union’; those who have formed alternative pro-authorities unions, where the program acted as a public trial to the Minister of Labour, and slander and attack on the General Union of Bahrain Trade Unions, and it was inciting to continue to prevent the sacked workers of their rights and on imposing tougher punishment on them. The Minister of Labour was accused of provide facilities in granting visas to global international and Arab trade unionists to support the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions. [5]

During the program public incitement and slander of the members of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions occurred; describing them as traitors and that the authorities should prevent entry of international unionists and international organizations to Bahrain and their participation in the General Conference of the Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions. Many of the pro-authorities newspapers launched a campaign to intimidate, denigrate and slander the General Union of Trade Unions of Bahrain and its President Sayed Salman AL-Mahfoodh. [6]

Prevention of the representatives of labor organizations from entering Bahrain

Virtually, the authorities have implemented several steps to crack down on the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions. On Saturday (29 September 2012), the General Conference II of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions has launched amid the absence of the International Labour Organization and the International Federation of Trade Unions from the conference, due to the Bahraini Authorities rejection to grant them visas to enter Bahrain. [7]

Bahraini authorities also refused to issue visas to 24 international labor organizations that were invited to the conference by the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions. The International Labour Organization, which was not allowed entry to Bahrain and prevented from participation in the work of the General Conference of the Union, said in a telegram from the unions activities official in the International Labour Office, Walid Hamdan, which was broadcasted at the conference of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions, Hamdan said «The legitimacy of your Federation gained from the confidence of Bahrain’s workers through a long struggle for the rights and freedoms of association and decent work, and with the support of the Arab workers and all workers of the world, it will never deviate and will not be affected by the prevention and oppression measures, and the desperate attempts to gain fake and dropped legitimacies that do not reflect the concerns and worries of the people and workers of Bahrain». [8]

This was not the first time that the General Federation of Bahrain Workers faced harassment because of its defense of the rights of arbitrarily sacked workers; where the pro-government media led an incitement campaign against it last year. It has also threatened the large corporations to sue the members of the Secretariat of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions if they refuse resignation voluntary [9]. However, the international movement in the defense of trade unionists at that time contributed in mitigating the damage of this campaign on the union activity, which continued its work.

BCHR believes that the authorities in Bahrain, especially in light of the increasing international silence on the continued violations, is going ahead with the restrictions and intimidation of civil society institutions and attempting to limit their work and activity. The General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions is targeted by the Authorities and its institutions, because of its legitimate union work in defending workers’ rights.

Based on the stated position calls for the following:

- The authorities in Bahrain must stop intimidation, slander and harassment of the independent civil society organizations, including the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions immediately. - Stopping all media campaigns in television or in the pro-government newspapers that insult trade unionists and workers and that are aimed at the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions and incite hatred. - To allow international organizations and international activists concerned with human rights and trade union action to enter Bahrain and contribute to the activities of civil society organizations - Returning all sacked workers since March 2011 to their jobs, maintaining their rights and dignity and ending this humanitarian issue. - Stopping the attempts to break up union work and hitting the interests of workers and their legitimate rights through the creation of conflicts and fake unions that do not represent workers and does not have legitimacy.


[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]