Expats’ rights denial rapped in Bahrain


Migrant workers make up roughly 60 per cent of the workforce and while they are allowed to join unions and run for union office, they prefer not to as they have no protection against dismissal, it says in its annual Survey of Trade Union Rights Violations report.



But unions are able to meet freely to discuss work strategy, regulations and future projects, as well as to play an effective role in defending workers’ rights, says the report.



The 379-page report details nearly 5,000 arrests and more than 8,000 dismissals of workers worldwide, due to their trade union activities.



More than 480 new cases of trade unionists held in detention by governments worldwide are also documented in the report, though no such cases are reported in Bahrain.



In its Bahrain report, the 168 million-member ITUC criticises a new labour law under which expatriate workers overstaying their work permits "suffer heavy fines, and 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," it says.



"Under this law foreign workers would also be covered by an institution created last year, the Labour Market Regulatory Authority, which is clearly charged with promoting the employment of local workers and taxing the recruitment and employment of foreigners."



The report also highlights restrictions on the right to strike in Bahrain.



"In November last year, the government considerably lengthened the list of essential services in which strikes are banned, which already went beyond the International Labour Organisation definition," it says.



An edict was issued on November last year banning strikes at vital facilities. Striking or calling for strikes at these locations are forbidden as they "may disturb national security and disrupt people’s daily course of lives".



Establishments include security, civil defence, airports, seaports, hospitals, health centres and pharmacies.



The ban also applies to all means of transport involving people or merchandise, telecommunications, electricity, water, bakeries, educational establishments and oil and gas facilities.



Before a strike is staged, says the ITUC, workers and employers in Bahrain must first seek an amicable settlement of the dispute.



"If this fails, Committee of Conciliation and Arbitration refers the dispute to further conciliation and arbitration," says the report.



"If the parties refuse the conciliation or if the conciliation efforts fail, the dispute is settled though arbitration within a period not exceeding one week."



"Workers may proceed with a strike only 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 Labour Ministry must also be notified."



The ITUC also stressed that government employees were still not able to form or join trade unions, pointing out that in 2005 "the authorities rejected a complaint from the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions".



It says that, however, the consolidation of the union movement in Bahrain continued.



"The GFBTU, which had 55 affiliated organisations in November last year, was actively involved in tripartite discussions, including those on the new labour law," says the report.



According to the report, the Middle East continues to be the region of the world where trade union rights are systematically violated.



"The ITUC denounced not only the murder, torture and harassment of trade unionists in the Middle East, but also legislation rendering the exercise of trade union rights impossible," it says.



The ITUC annual survey also underlines that migrant workers constitute the most vulnerable group in the Middle East.



"In some cases, their rights do not come under the protection of the law and in others they are prohibited from joining unions," it says.



"Most migrant workers do not dare to unionise or take part in collective action for fear of being beaten, dismissed or deported."



Globally, it said that workers seeking to better their lives through trade union activities were facing rising levels of repression and intimidation in an increasing number of countries.



"Most shocking of all is the increase of some 25 per cent in the number killed compared to the previous year," said ITUC secretary-general Guy Ryder.


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