U.S. Advances Labor Complaint Against Bahrain
The Labor Department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs announced May 7 that the U.S. has requested consultations under the labor chapter of its bilateral free trade agreement with Bahrain concerning that country’s response to civil unrest in early 2011. U.S. officials expressed hope that these consultations, which are expected to begin within 30 days, will produce a collaborative discussion and a concrete plan of action to strengthen labor protections in Bahrain.
In December 2012, the DOL issued a report concluding that Bahrain acted inconsistently with the FTA provisions on labor in the apparent targeting of trade unionists and leaders for firing after a general strike in March 2011, employment discrimination based on religious (sectarian) identity or political opinion, and labor laws that do not provide adequate protection on these issues. A May 6 letter to Bahraini officials notes that while significant efforts have been made to ensure the reinstatement of the fired workers, this process does not appear to have addressed the underlying concerns. It also appears, the letter states, that the government of Bahrain has not remedied shortcomings in its laws on freedom of association, did not prevent or discourage employers from using these shortcomings to retaliate against organizers, supporters and participants in the general strike, and has subsequently enacted labor law amendments that weaken freedom of association protections.