Population: 754,000
Capital: Manama
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 105 – 111 – 182

In October, a Royal Decree banning dismissals for trade union activities seemed to confirm the desire of the authorities, signalled since 2002, to guarantee trade union rights. However, a few weeks later they decided to ban strikes and demonstrations in a large number of sectors. The lack of adequate protection for migrant workers and the denial of organising rights to public sector workers are two further causes of concern.

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 non-citizens, 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. The government admitted that the new law would not give domestic servants any employment rights, but contained measures that would 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 law that is to be adopted in 2007 enshrines the principle of collective bargaining for the first time in the country's history.

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

Unions allowed to play effective role: The consolidation of the union movement continued in 2006. The GFBTU, which had 55 affiliated organisations in November, was actively involved in tripartite discussions, including those on a new labour law. Unions seem able to meet freely to discuss union work strategy, regulations and future projects, and have been able to play an effective role in defending workers' rights.

Public workers denied right to organise: Government employees are still not able to form or join trade unions. In 2005 the authorities rejected a complaint from the GFBTU.

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