Last Updated: Monday, 28 July 2014, 16:37 GMT

2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Bahrain

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Bahrain, 9 June 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c4fec9032.html [accessed 30 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 791,000
Capital: Manama
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 105 – 111 – 182

Freedom of association is limited, since Convention 87 has not been ratified, and the right to collective bargaining has not yet been recognised. In 2009, workers at several construction companies were threatened with deportation or arrest during strikes and protests over poor working conditions. Migrant workers, estimated at some 60% of the workforce, continue to face discrimination despite repeated criticism from the ILO.

Trade union rights in law

Despite some initial guarantees, trade union rights are not adequately secured. The Constitution recognises the right to form a union for lawful objectives and by peaceful means, provided that the fundamentals of the religion and public order are not infringed. Only one trade union is allowed at each workplace, and all unions must belong to the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions. A law that would have allowed more than one trade union per company was vetoed by the Shura council in February 2009. Workers in the private sector are protected against anti-union dismissal, and the law provides for the possibility of reinstatement. While foreign workers may join trade unions, they are not sufficiently protected in law.

Workers are not allowed to engage in collective bargaining, however the government has promised to adopt a law in this regard. A lawful strike can only be called after three-quarters of the members of the union's general assembly approve of the action. The list of "essential services" vastly exceeds the ILO definition.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: The government has not ratified Convention 87 on Freedom of Association, workers are discouraged from union activity, and union leaders are sacked and harassed. The authorities released 178 political prisoners in April after an official pardon. Those released included two prominent Shi'a opposition activists and the leader of an opposition organisation. The economic crisis is also having an impact in Bahrain; in October, for example, the Manama Gulf Air trade unions alleged that the struggling Bahrain-owned carrier was planning to dismiss 272 workers.

Abolition of the sponsorship system: In August, Bahrain's Labour Minister Majeed al-Alawi announced the abolition of the sponsorship system for foreign workers. This system, which is a root cause of abusive conditions for many migrants, has been criticised for giving employers too much power over workers and leaving employees open to abuse and exploitation. This system has been in place in all Gulf states, with Bahrain being the first to abolish it. During a press conference, Majeed al-Alawi compared the current system to slavery. This positive move will allow foreign workers to change jobs without the approval of their former employers.

Migrant workers: Bahrain is home to growing numbers of migrant workers, mainly from Asia and some African countries. Most are employed in domestic work, entertainment and construction. They face serious discrimination and as domestic workers' employment relations fall outside the scope of the Labour Code, women migrant domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to abuse and discrimination. Throughout 2009 several blazes swept through slum areas housing migrants. In June and November several thousand construction workers from Al Hamad Contracting company went on strike to claim unpaid wages.

In June 2009, India and Bahrain signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on labour development with the view to improving conditions for Indian workers in Bahrain, who reportedly represent over a quarter of Bahrain's workforce. The Indian officials would also have the power to deal with strikes, disputes and labour crises.

A new draft Labour law is designed to cover some categories of workers previously excluded from the application of the Labour law with respect to certain aspects of labour relations, including weekly rest and compensation following unfair dismissal.

Domestic workers are reportedly to be covered by a forthcoming new labour law which will regulate the working hours and living conditions of domestic staff such as housemaids, drivers, childminders and cooks as well as potentially combating forced labour and trafficking. According to reports, there are some five to 10 human trafficking cases every month, usually among domestic workers who have either been mistreated or forced into prostitution.

Migrant workers on strike over illegal deductions – complaint ignored: In June, striking workers at the Ma'ameer-based Abu Amer Equipment Hiring Company were told by the Labour Ministry that all 75 strikers would have to be present in person in order for them to lodge a complaint against the company. A spokesman for the mainly Indian, Nepali and Pakistani workforce reportedly said they could barely afford to pay the taxi fare for five of them, let alone 75, and that they did not want to visit the company's office for fear of being deported. The workers accused the company of deducting money from their salaries to pay for machinery repairs and forcing workers to do work they are not supposed to do.

Bahrain strikers threatened: Over 5,000 workers at the Al Hamad Construction and Development Company went on strike on 10 June claiming they had not been paid salaries for two months. Workers also accused the company of delaying the repatriation of the bodies of deceased colleagues including the body of Gulab Singh, who was crushed when his transport vehicle collided with a truck. The company threatened to have several strikers arrested if they did not return to work immediately, but one worker stated that they would not resume work until their wages were paid in full. Around 2,200 workers had gone on strike over pay in April 2008 and some 750 workers staged two strikes in August 2006. According to the company the wages had already been deposited.

Strike at Iron Ore plant: refusal to negotiate: In October, workers and members of the trade union at the Gulf Industrial Investment Company's (GIIC) iron ore processing plant voted to go on strike after management allegedly made key decisions relating to staff rights and welfare without the union's consent.

The union was protesting against the fact that management refused to sign a "negotiation mechanism" requiring them to discuss issues relating to staff rights and welfare. The company also scrapped the firm's transportation service (affecting 200 employees out of 300 employed at the company) and changed its Ramadan operating hours without the union being informed. The union had submitted a draft of the negotiation mechanism to the senior management months before, demanding that any changes in terms and conditions of employment be subject to negotiation. Union representatives are following up with the Labour Ministry.

Negotiation mechanisms refused by employers: In October 2009, over 400 Marine Port Union members began taking steps towards strike action. Employees of the two companies managing the port were demanding, among other labour issues such as health insurance and shift allowance, that management come up with a negotiation mechanism on labour issues. Union chairman Salman Al Saad alleged that the companies had refused all attempts by the union to negotiate employees' demands. Since the union was established in 2007, they had not been able to find a negotiating mechanism. The Labour Ministry presented a negotiation mechanism memorandum to be signed by the companies, but they have thus far refused. One of the companies twice asked the union to sign its version of the mechanism memorandum which the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) believed was against employees' rights and needs, and was therefore rejected.

The dockers, represented by the GFBTU, reached an agreement on 4 November following intense negotiations, and a last minute deal was made, enabling the workers to call off the protests. The talks were prompted by the International Transport Federation (ITF) and union lobbying of the company's international management. It is hoped the agreement will pave the way for negotiations towards a collective bargaining agreement.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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