In Bahrain, the Solidarity Center supports trade union efforts to organize and educate a cadre of skilled labor educators and grassroots activists.
||Bahraini workers rally for democracy at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, March 2011. Photo courtesy of ITUC
The Kingdom of Bahrain is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a regional economic and trade alliance founded in 1981. The General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) is among the most active trade unions in the GCC. It represents a unified labor movement bridging the political, sectarian, and national differences among its membership. It is an organization committed to democratic elections, staunch defense of workers rights as human rights, and a progressive position on inclusion of migrant workers. Recently, it announced its intention to form its first sectoral union, in the construction sector, in partnership with Building and Wood Workers' International (BWI).
In 2002, the government of Bahrain adopted new legislation recognizing freedom of association. The Workers Trade Union Law allows private sector workers, workers subject to the provisions of the Maritime Code, and civil service workers to form and join trade unions. All unions in Bahrain are affiliated with the GFBTU, which comprises 60 company-based unions in the construction, industrial, textile, insurance, petroleum, aluminum, airport services, and other sectors. The 2008 membership of the GFBTU was approximately 22,000. As private sector membership continues to expand, GFBTU work is concentrated on education and training for new union leaders. Currently, 13 women are active on the executive councils of GFBTU affiliates.
Although government rulings disqualify unionization in governmental agencies and state-run corporations, the GFBTU continues to recruit and organize members in the public sector, establishing an internal unit to address the issues of the six existing public sector unions. The International Labor Organization (ILO) is also involved in the GFBTU’s on-going campaign to push the government to fully recognize the right to freely associate and to form unions.
The GFBTU is committed to the inclusion of non-Bahraini workers, and works actively to recruit migrant workers and represent them in negotiations. The GFBTU has taken the regional lead in the active recruitment of migrants, but even in Bahrain migrant membership remains a small fraction of total membership. The construction sector has been the primary recruitment target for organizing.
The Solidarity Center also works with the Migrant Workers Protection Society (MWPS) an NGO on Bahrain, in support of their efforts to provide assistance to domestic workers. The MWPS traveled to Sri Lanka in 2007 to advocate for the rights of Sri Lankan workers, who have no diplomatic representation in Bahrain.
Restricted freedom of association, gender- and nationality-based discrimination, and inadequate legal protections are cross-regional challenges affecting each of the GCC States. Recognizing this, GCC trade unionists are collaborating to advance cross-regional solutions. The Solidarity Center supports the work of the GFBTU and its affiliates at the national level and the regional level.
Authorities in Bahrain have launched an all-out attack on the Bahraini trade union movement. Thousands of workers have been dismissed for taking part in trade union activities supporting the peaceful calls for greater democracy and reform. Act Now to send a protest message through LabourStart.
On Second Anniversary of Uprising, Bahrainis Say Crisis Is Worse. February 14, 2013—Tens of thousands of Bahrainis are in the streets today, the second anniversary of the uprising in Bahrain, to protest the government’s lack of progress in moving toward a more democratic political process. But any Bahraini student who is absent from class will be expelled, and any teacher who does not show up for work will be fired, according to Jalila Al-Salman, a founder of the Bahraini Teachers’ Society.
Bahrain: Trade Unionist Released from Prison. December 3, 2012—Jalila Al-Salman, acting president of the Bahraini Teachers’ Association, was released from prison Nov. 25, according to Education International (EI). Al-Salman, who was jailed in March 2011, was serving a three-year term for exercising her right to freedom of assembly and for demanding reforms in Bahrain’s educational system. Education International and LabourStart spearheaded a global petition campaign urging Bahrain’s government to release both teachers, sparking international outrage that aided in Al-Salman’s release.
Bahraini Teachers Jailed. November 5, 2012—Mahdi Abu Dheeb and Jalila al-Salman, the president and vice president of the Bahraini Teachers' Association, were sentenced to five and six months in prison after a court in Bahrain upheld their convictions last week. The two were arrested in 2011 after supporting calls for reform in Bahrain. Abu Dheeb has spent some 18 months in prison and al-Salman spent five and a half months in prison before being released on bail. Prior to that, they were held in solitary confinement, where they say they were subjected to torture or other ill-treatment and forced to sign “confessions” they did not even read.
On World Teacher Day, Unions Back Jailed Bahraini Teachers. October 5, 2012—Today, World Teachers’ Day, reminds us how valuable teachers are for building our future—and how fragile their profession can be. Massive teacher shortages are “quietly looming over countries struggling to provide every child with quality primary education by 2015,” according to UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
ITUC: Bahrain Bans Trade Union and ILO Observers. 28 September 2012—The ITUC has issued a statement condemning the Bahrain government’s refusal to allow at least seven representatives of the ITUC, national trade union organizations and the United Nations’ ILO to enter the country to take part in the Congress of the country’s trade union center GFBTU.
Wary of the Future, Bahrainis Observe One Year since Peaceful Protest Began. February 13, 2012—Bahrainis are marking a grim anniversary this week: one year since tens of thousands of men, women, and children peacefully took to the streets to call for more justice, more equality, and more democracy in their country and, instead, were met with violent repression, including widespread detentions, torture, and criminalization of dissent.
Bahrain: ITUC Denounces the Ongoing Failure to Reinstate Workers. January 31, 2012—In November 2011, the Governing Body of the International Labor Organization (ILO) agreed to a proposal to establish a tripartite committee to review the mass dismissal of Bahraini workers referred to in the complaint concerning the Non-Observance by Bahrain of the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958.
Kuwait and Bahrain Unions Become First in the Gulf to Forge an Official Trade Union Relationship with Nepal. January 20, 2012—Gulf States are relying on as many as 15 million migrant workers from Asia to grow their economies. As the economies of Kuwait and Bahrain thrive on migrant labor, Nepal’s largest employer is the Gulf States, where families depend on making money overseas.
Bahrain: Give Back Our Jobs and Our Dignity. October 19, 2011—Faisal Ghazwan is one of more than 2,500 workers sacked for supporting peaceful, pro-democracy marches in Bahrain—or for staying home from work to avoid the ensuing violence perpetrated by security forces and vigilantes. Ghazwan recently spoke with the Solidarity Center about his and his co-workers’ continued fight for dignity and justice.
Bahrain's Anti-Union Repression. August 23, 2011—The authorities in Bahrain are stepping up repression of the country’s trade union movement, with further suspensions and sackings of workers due to their actual or suspected participation in trade union and political actions earlier this year.
Interview: Abdulla Alderazi, Bahrain Human Rights Society. August 16, 2011-Abdulla Alderazi, a longtime defender of civil rights and a university professor, has joined the growing ranks of men and women sacked from their jobs for calling for peaceful change in Bahrain.
Bahrain: EI Calls for Detained Teachers to Be Released. August 11, 2011—Education International (EI) has issued a new appeal to Bahraini authorities to release Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb, vice-president and president of the Bahraini Teachers Association (BTA) arrested along with several other board members of the BTA. EI issued a first Urgent Action Appeal in April 2011. This second appeal is launched because the situation of human and trade union rights in the country remains critical.
Fault Lines in Bahrain. August 10, 2011—The Solidarity Center's Shawna Bader-Blau was a featured speaker at last night's New America Foundation presentation, "Fault Lines in Bahrain." Watch the 30-minute Al-Jazeera video and post-viewing discussion, and follow the Twitter conversation. One comment: "This is the most levelheaded, frank, drama free discussion on Bahrain I have watched yet!"
Bahrain: Unions Call for Reinstatement of Sacked Workers and End to Anti-Union Attacks. July 5, 2011—In an interview published by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) today, senior Bahraini trade union officials have called for the reinstatement of some 2,000 workers sacked for supporting the country’s pro-democracy movement, as well as an end to violent attacks on trade unions. Ebrahim H Abdulla and Abdulla M Hussain of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) explain in the interview why the unions are taking part in the “national dialogue” launched by the authorities following the suspension of a state of emergency on July 1.
Bahrain: Unions Fight Discrimination, Firings Even after Martial Law Lifted. June 5, 2011—Although martial law was lifted on JUne 1, workers in the Gulf state are still being targeted and fired and unions are under attack, the Solidarity Center's Shawna Bader-Blau tells the Los Angeles Times. Bader-Blau recently assessed the situation on the ground in Bahrain, where billboards posted around the captital threaten "no forgiveness" for the protest movement.
Bahrain: Prominent Human Rights Activists Harassed and Intimidated. May 29, 2011—According to the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture, Abdulla Alderazi, secretary general of the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS), was interrogated at length by the Military Prosecutor, while BHRS Deputy Secretary General Essa Al-Ghayeb was banned from traveling as he was about to depart for a seminar in Kuwait.
Bahrain Civil Society Leaders Share Their Plight, Discuss Repression. April 27, 2011—Civil society has come under increasing threat since peaceful demonstrations began in Bahrain in mid-February. More than 1,000 people have been fired and hundreds have been detained since the government declared a state of national security on March 15.
Bahrain: Urgent ITUC Mission Warns of Slide into Dictatorship. April 18, 2011—International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Deputy General Secretary Jaap Wienen, on an urgent visit to the Bahrain’s capital Manama this weekend, has pledged a comprehensive package of international actions in support of the fundamental rights of Bahrain’s working people, as the trade union movement in the Gulf country faces and all-out assault from the government.
Human Rights Situation in Bahrain Deteriorates as Government Campaign of Intimidation Increases. April 5, 2011—The Solidarity Center is calling for an immediate end to threats, firings and arrests of rights activists and workers in Bahrain, where the government has imposed a harsh and brutal crackdown upon dissent. “The attacks on basic freedoms of association, assembly, and speech in Bahrain are unacceptable,” said Nancy Mills, Solidarity Center interim executive director.
Bahrain: Wave of Sackings, Threats, and Violence Against Workers and Union Representatives. April 4, 2011 2011—The International Trade Union Confederation denounced the wave of massive sackings, threats and violence against workers and their trade union representatives in Bahrain, in reprisal for their participation in legitimate strike and protest action for greater democracy in the country.
Bahrain: Exploitation of Migrant Workers, Including for Political Reasons, Puts Their Lives at Risk. April 1, 2011—On the small island of Bahrain, 77 percent of the workforce is made up of migrant workers, most of whom come from South Asia and work in low-skilled, low-paid jobs. The majority are highly vulnerable temporary workers, concentrated in the construction industry and domestic service sector, where working and living conditions are harsh.
Letter of Solidarity from General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions to Wisconsin Workers, February 24, 2011
Global Labor Movement Condemns Violence in Bahrain. The International Trade Union Confederation, the AFL-CIO, and the global labor movement condemned the violent crackdown against peaceful protesters in Bahrain. At least two have been killed, and thousands still occupy the Pearl Roundabout in the capital, Manama. The General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions released a statement urgently backing demonstrators’ demands for greater economic and political freedoms.
Women’s Regional Empowerment Network (WREN).This Solidarity Center program is training over 100 women in Algeria, Bahrain, and Jordan, as labor educators and activists in their unions and communities.
Solidarity Center Provides Worker Perspective at GCC Leadership Summit. Solidarity Center and AFL-CIO senior staff spoke to more than 50 policymakers, government officials, HR directors, senior managers and consultants, developers, suppliers, bankers, and global union leaders at a groundbreaking leadership summit on corporate social responsibility in the Gulf Coopeartion Council construction industry, held June 18, 2008 in Dubai, UAE.
Hope for Migrant Workers in Gulf States. The Solidarity Center is part of an effort that brings together union, employer, and government representatives to improve working conditions for migrants in the Gulf States.
Solidarity Center Organizes Groundbreaking Migrant Worker Rights Panel at ILO Meeting. A groundbreaking panel discussion on migrant worker issues, co-hosted by the Solidarity Center and the International Trade Union Confederation on June 13, 2007, during the International Labor Conference in Geneva, drew a standing-room-only crowd.
Solidarity Center Publications
Statements of Support
- Letter from AFL-CIO International Department Director Cathy Feingold to His Majesty the King of Bahrain, October 24, 2011
- Letter from AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, April 15, 2011
- Letter from ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow to His Majesty the King of Bahrain, April 7, 2011
- Respect for Fundamental Rights of Teacher Union Activists and Leaders, Letter from Education International General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen to His Majesty the King of Bahrain, March 23, 2011
- Letter from AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, March 16, 2011
- Letter from AFL-CIO International Director Cathy Feingold to His Majesty the King of Bahrain, March 16, 2011
- Letter from AFL-CIO International Director Cathy Feingold to the Crown Prince of Bahrain, February 25, 2011
- San Francisco Labor Council, Resolution in Support of General Strike Action by General Federation of Workers Trade Union of Bahrain, March 14, 2011
- Statement of the GFBTU Regarding Suspension of the General Strike, February 20, 2011
- Statement Issued by the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions, February 19, 2011
- Letter from AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka to His Majesty the King of Bahrain, February 17, 2011
- Statement of the Central Council of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions and presidents of trade unions on the brutal attack on demonstrators in the Pearl Roundabout, February 17, 2011
- Statement of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (2) on recent events, February 16, 2011
- Statement by General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions, February 15, 2011
- Letter from AFL-CIO President John Sweeney to GFBTU (Feb.2008)
- Letter from AFL-CIO President John Sweeney to Bahrain Prime Minister (June 2008)
- Letter from AFL-CIO President John Sweeney to Bahrain Prime Minister (March 2008)
- Letter from AFL-CIO President John Sweeney to Bahrain Prime Minister (Dec. 2007)