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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Bahrain

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Bahrain, 20 November 2008, available at: [accessed 21 October 2017]
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: 753,000
Capital: Manama
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 105 – 111 – 182

Despite gaining restricted union rights in 2002, workers and union leaders were still sacked, or threatened with being sacked if they exercised these rights. The government suspended two union leaders without pay for talking to the media. Foreign workers lack employment rights and many are badly treated.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association recognised: The Workers' Trade Union Law of September 2002 introduced the right to belong to trade unions in Bahrain. It established the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) but not full freedom of association, as all trade unions have to belong to the GFBTU. Workers in the private and public sector may join trade unions, including noncitizens, who make up the majority of Bahrain's workforce.

Only one trade union may be formed at each establishment, but no prior authorisation is required to form a union. The only requirement is that the union's constitution must be communicated to the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, together with the names of the founding members.

Since October 2006, a decree on employment in the private sector prohibits dismissal for trade union activities. Employers are also obliged to reinstate the sacked employees and to provide compensation if it is proved that they were discriminated against because of their union work.

Trade unions are not subject to administrative dissolution. They may not engage in political activities.

Foreign workers harshly treated: Migrant workers make up roughly 60 per cent of the workforce. Though in theory they are allowed to join unions and run for union office, etc., they prefer not to, as they have no protection against dismissal. According to the proposed legislation, if expatriate workers overstay their work permits, they suffer heavy fines, are imprisoned for unspecified lengths of time and then deported. Fear of deportation or employer retaliations prevented many foreign workers from complaining to the authorities.

The government admitted that the new law does not cover domestic servants, who are forced to work very long hours, subject to verbal and physical abuse, but contained measures that might protect them against abuse from employers. What is more, under this law foreign workers would also be covered by an institution created in 2006, the Labour Market Authority, which is clearly charged with promoting the employment of local workers and taxing the recruitment and employment of foreigners.

Collective bargaining: The government promised to adopt a law in 2007 that enshrined the principle of collective bargaining, but this was still not adopted by the year end.

Restrictions on the right to strike: Workers and employers must first seek an amicable settlement of the dispute through conciliation. If this fails, a Committee of Conciliation and Arbitration refers the dispute to further conciliation and arbitration. If the parties refuse the conciliation or if the conciliation fails, the dispute is settled though arbitration within a period not exceeding one week.

Workers may only proceed with a strike after obtaining the approval of three quarters of the members of the general assembly of the union through a secret ballot. The employer must be notified of the strike no less than two weeks in advance, and the Ministry of Labour must also be notified.

In November 2006, the government considerably lengthened the list of essential services in which strikes are banned, which already went beyond the ILO definition. Hydrocarbons, health, education, pharmacies and bakers must now be added to the security, civil defence, airport, port and transport sectors.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Government and employers increasingly clamp down on trade union action: The GFBTU, which had 55 affiliates, is actively involved in tripartite discussions, including on a new labour law, and unions can meet freely to discuss strategy, etc. Employers are becoming increasingly impatient with trade union activity.

Unionised dairy workers sacked: In 12 July, three union members at Al Marai Dairy Company who threatened to strike for better pay and conditions were sacked.

In November, the company sacked 50 of the workers, including five trade union branch leaders, who were on a month-long strike, for holding an illegal strike, after the union had unsuccessfully tried mediation through the Labour Courts. The workers were reinstated after GFBTU intervention.

Trade union organisers fired: On July 18, two trade unionists at the Batelco company were fired after 450 workers took part in a protest march to demand a 25% pay rise and complain about the company replacing a voluntary early retirement plan with a compulsory employees' redeployment plan. The Minister of Labour said the firings were unjustified and called on the company to reinstate the union organisers, but it had not done so by year's end.

Union leaders suspended without pay for speaking out: In March, Ms Najiyah Abdul Ghaffar, deputy head of the Postal Workers Union was suspended for three days without pay for telling the press about the hardship postal workers face.

Later in the year, in December Jamal Ateeq, president of the PTT Union and a member of the GFBTU Executive Committee, was suspended for five days without pay for making public statements that government employees should be allowed to organise. He went on hunger strike from 9-13 December in protest.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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