Bahrain workers facing reprisals for general strike

Hundreds of Bahraini workers who participated in a general strike in March in support of the country’s pro-democracy movement have been fired by private employers and public agencies. Hundreds more are facing the same fate as employers begin a wave of punishment aimed at discouraging further worker participation in the movement.

The Christian Science Monitor today reported that so far 16 companies and government agencies have fired 565 workers for absenteeism because they did not come to work during the general strike that lasted from March 13 through March 22.

There is a good chance that the firings have not ended. The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers said that Bahraini union leaders think that more than 1,000 workers could lose their jobs for participating in the general strike. Bahrain is an island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf

The strike was called by General Bahraini Federation of Trade Unions (GBFTU), a confederation of 60 Bahraini unions, to protest the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, who had occupied the city center of Manama, the nation’s capital, to demand an end to the autocratic rule of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and to discrimination against the nation’s Shia majority.

So far, all of the executive board members of GBFTU have lost their jobs. The president of GBFTU Salman Mahfooz has been summoned for questioning next week by the country’s security forces, the GBFTU headquarters has been closed by the security forces, and workers trying to get to the union headquarters have been blocked from doing so.

Abdul Ghaffar Hassain, president of the union at Bahrain Petroleum (BAPCO) and a member of the GBFTU executive board, was fired for participating in the strike and for urging other workers at the BAPCO plant to join the strike. About 60 percent of the BP workers did not show up for work while that strike was in progress. BAPCO said that it plans to start legal proceedings against Hassain next week.

“These dismissals are nothing less than a ‘political purification’ of the workplace,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation. “This is totally unacceptable and illegal.” The ITUC on its web site said that reprisals like the ones taking place in Bahrain are ” flagrant violation of ILO Convention 111 concerning discrimination at work, which Bahrain has ratified, and of Convention 87 on Freedom of Association which Bahrain is obliged to respect.”

The general strike was called after the Bahraini government brought in foreign security forces from Saudi Arabia to suppress pro-democracy protests similar to those that overthrew dictators in Tunisia and Egypt. About 70 percent of the Bahraini workforce observed the strike, which brought the nation’s economy to its knees.

The GBTFU agreed to call off the general strike at the request of al-Wefaq, the country’s major opposition group that was seeking a dialogue with the government to resolve its grievances. The GBFTU received assurances from the government that there would be no reprisals against those who participated in the strike.

But earlier this week workers began receiving termination notices. On April 3, workers at Aluminum Bahrain (Alba) showed up for work but were stopped from entering the building. They were then lined up and told to swipe their ID cards through a reader. Those whose ID cards were rejected were detained and given notice that they were fired. More than 200 workers at Alba lost their jobs.

Other major employers, including Bahrain Telecommunications, Gulf Air, Bahrain Airport Services, and APM Terminals Bahrain, which operates Khalifa port, have also told workers participating in the strike that they no longer have jobs.

Thirty doctors and nurses at Salmaniya Medical Complex have been sacked and the union representing doctors and nurses has been disbanded by Bahrain’s health ministry. The education ministry disbanded the teachers union and had its president Mahdi Abu Deeb arrested for inciting hatred against the government.

“(These firings and other retaliation) are a political decision,” said Hadi Al Mosawi president of the telecommunication workers union. “It’s symbolic punishment meant to scare others.”

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3 thoughts on “Bahrain workers facing reprisals for general strike

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  2. Pingback: Bahrain workers facing reprisals for general strike (via Left Labor Reporter) | Rawlin'sView Blog

  3. Pingback: How’s that double standard working out for ya? | SISMEC

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