The Director-General of the International Labour Office, Juan Somavia, has reiterated the grave concern he expressed in a letter of 1 April to the Prime Minister of Bahrain at developments in the country, in particular over reports of widespread acts of anti-trade union discrimination against leaders and members of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions.
Director-General Somavia urges Bahraini Authorities to take immediate and firm actions to ensure that workers and their unions in Bahrain do not face any further form of unfair, unjust and degrading treatment for having expressed their legitimate rights in accordance with the principles of freedom of association.
In the wake of the recent wave of peaceful demonstrations which were met by the Bahraini authorities with excessive use of force and the declaration of a state of emergency, the ILO has received further information about dismissals of GFBTU activists and other repressive measures that effectively undermine its capacity to exercise its legitimate trade union functions.
The most recent reports received from the International Trade Union Confederation, of which the GFBTU is an affiliate, point to a further degradation of the situation. The ITUC says that about 300 workers have been dismissed for participating in strikes and demonstrations. They include the dismissal of Abdul Ghaffar Abdul Hussain, President of the Bahrain Petroleum Company Trade Union and former President of the GFBTU, as well as members of the Executive Board of the GFBTU for “instigating workers and employees to take part in a general strike”. He and others are also reported to face legal prosecution for the same reasons.
Mass dismissals have also been reported at the Alba Aluminium Company, the Khalifa Sea Port and Gulf Air. The General Secretary and Vice-President of the Bahraini Teachers’ Association are amongst the six members of the organization arrested on 29 and 30 March. Reports from last night indicate the detention of Mrs. Rulla el Saffar, President of the Bahrain Nursing Society whose whereabouts remain unknown. Furthermore the Bahrain News Agency reported today that Parliament is calling on the Government to take immediate legal measures against the heads of trade unions and associations who have supported the strike and to refer them to the public prosecutors office.
All this information is extremely alarming, in particular as the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions had called on workers to return to work and had been given assurances by State officials that they will not face any punitive measures for their participation in strikes. Indeed, the GBFTU had taken a constructive attitude in inviting the workers to return to work in the interest of the national economy and to allow for conditions that would strengthen the basis for a national dialogue.
Given the deterioration of the situation the Director-General has decided to organize a high level ILO mission to Bahrain as soon as possible to dialogue and address with the government as well as worker and employer organizations the reported anti-trade union acts and to promote the process of tripartite cooperation, which is the surest path forward from Bahrain’s situation of crisis.
The Director-General stated on 15 March that it was urgent to intensify efforts towards the dialogue that had started between the Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain and the key actors of society, among them worker and employer organizations. Today, therefore, it is a matter of the deepest concern that resort to discriminatory action in contradiction with ILO Conventions would, in addition to violating the basic rights of Bahraini workers, undermine the conditions for genuine and successful dialogue.
The International Labour Office is the permanent secretariat of the International Labour Organization.