The ITUC affiliate in Bahrain is the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU).
Freedom of association / Right to organise
The law prohibits anti-union discrimination, but does not provide adequate means of protection against it.
Barriers to the establishment of organisations:
- Restrictions on trade unions' right to establish branches, federation and confederation or to affiliate with national and international organisations
- Art. 8.1 of Legislative Decree No.35 of 2011 amending the Act on Trade Unions only permits the establishment of federations of trade unions from similar professions or sectors.
- Power to refuse official registration on arbitrary, unjustified or ambiguous grounds
- The legislation allows for the registration of multiple trade unions at enterprise level as long as the unions are not formed on the basis of sect, religion or race (Decree No.35 of 2011). Trade unions fear that since most Bahraini workers are Shia muslims the law could be invoked to prevent registration or de-register trade unions claiming that they were established on sectarian or religious grounds.
Restrictions on workers' right to form and join organisations of their own choosing:
- Single trade union system imposed by law and/or a system banning or limiting organising at a certain level (enterprise, industry and/or sector, regional and/or territorial, national)
- The legislation appears to establish a single trade union system at national level since it provides that "the trade union structure shall consist of the trade unions and of the Confederation of Bahrain's Trade Unions" (Art.6, Act on Trade Unions, as amended by Act 49 of 2006).
Restrictions on trade unions' right to organise their administration:
- Other external interference allowed by law
- The Minister of Labour has the right to determine the most representative organization of workers that will represent Bahraini workers in international fora and national level bargaining (Act on Trade Unions (as amended by Act No. 49); Art. 8.3 Legislative Decree No. 35 of 2011)
- Restrictions on the right to elect representatives and self-administer in full freedom
- Persons found guilty of violations leading to the dissolution of a trade union organization are banned from trade unions governing bodies for a 5 years period (Art.35 Legislative Decree No. 35 of 2011)
- Restrictions on the right to freely draw up their constitutions and rules
- The legislation provides for very detailed rules concerning the administration of trade unions and the way they must conduct and organize their affairs (Act on Trade Unions, Art. 12, 13, 14 and 15)
Categories of workers prohibited or limited from forming or joining a union, or from holding a union office:
- Other civil servants and public employees
- Workers covered by Civil Service Regulations may not establish trade unions. They can only join existing organizations which regroup workers having occupations or professions similar to theirs (Act on Trade Unions, Section 10; Circular No. 1 of 10 February 2003 on the right of civil service workers to join workers’ unions)
- Agricultural workers
- Agricultural workers do not have the right to join or form a trade union (Labour Law in the Private Sector 2012, Art. 2)
- Domestic workers
- Domestic servants and “persons regarded as such" are excluded from labour legislation and therefore have no rights to join and form trade unions (Labour Law in the Private Sector 2012, Art. 2).
- Temporary / contract workers
- Temporary workers performing ancillary services of an employer for a duration of less than one year do not have the right to join or form a trade union (Labour Law in the Private Sector 2012, Art. 2).
Right to collective bargaining
Restrictions on the principle of free and voluntary bargaining:
- Compulsory conciliation and / or binding arbitration procedure in the event of disputes during collective bargaining, other than in essential services
- Article 158 of the Labour Law in the Private Sector 2012 provides that either party alone may request conciliation and arbitration in private sector to resolve collective labour disputes. Moreover, the government can compel conciliation and arbitration, even if neither party has requested it.
Restrictions on the scope of application and legal effectiveness of concluded collective agreements:
- Authorities' approval of freely concluded collective agreements
- The Ministry of Labour is in charge of reviewing collective labour agreements and may raise objections and refuse to enter them into the register or publish them (Labour Law in the Private Sector 2012, Art. 143).
Limitations or ban on collective bargaining in certain sectors:
- Other civil servants and public employees
- Civil servants do not enjoy the right to collective bargaining.
Right to strike
Barriers to lawful strike actions:
- Excessively long prior notice / cooling-off period
- The law requires 15 days prior notice to declare strike (Art. 21.2, Act on Trade Unions (as amended by Act No. 49)).
- Compulsory recourse to arbitration, or to long and complex conciliation and mediation procedures prior to strike actions
- Conciliation and arbitration in services considered "strategic" are mandatory after failure of resolving the issue between the workers and the employer (Art.21.3 Act on Trade Unions (as amended by Act No. 49)).
Undue interference by authorities or employers during the course of a strike:
- Authorities' or employers' power to prevent or end a strike by referring the dispute to arbitration
- Workers must refrain from work stoppage while the issue is still ongoing through conciliation and arbitration (Art.21.2.c. Act on Trade Unions (as amended by Act No. 49)).These processes can in practice last for years effectively depriving workers of the right to strike.
Limitations or ban on strikes in certain sectors:
- Discretionary determination or excessively long list of "essential services" in which the right to strike is prohibited or severely restricted
- Strikes are prohibited in vital and important facilities that may harm the national security and the life of individuals. Decision No. 62, still in force, establishes - among others - the following as essential services where strike action is prohibited: airports, ports, medical centres, all means of transport of persons or goods, bakeries, educational institutions, and oil and gas installations (Art.21, Act on Trade Unions (as amended by Act No. 49)).
While the tripartite committee was able to reinstate a significant number of all dismissed workers who participated in pro-democracy demonstrations, according to the GFBTU, as many as 657 workers have still not been reinstated since the 2011 events, including trade union leaders. Furthermore, among those reinstated, some were rehired with inferior conditions and job statuses and on lower pay to those jobs they held prior to their dismissal.
On 21 October 2011, the Court of Appeal upheld the guilty verdict issued against the BTA leaders on 25 September 2011 for allegedly attempting to overthrow the ruling system by force and inciting hatred of the regime. The prison sentences were reduced to five years for Mahdi Abu Dheeb and six months for Jalila al-Salman. The lawyers of the BTA leaders filed an objection to the Supreme Court regarding the verdict.
On 7 November 2012, Jalila al-Salman, who had been released on bail, was summoned without explanation to the Investigation Department in Manama to serve the remaining time of her 6-month prison term. She was transferred to the Isa Town Women’s Prison. Her lawyer and family were not allowed to accompany or contact her. Jalila al-Salman was finally released from prison on 25 November after serving her prison term. Mahdi Abu Dheeb is still serving a 5-year prison term. A final appeal is still pending.
Reliable reports indicate that both Mahdi Abu Dheeb and Jalila al-Salman were tortured in detention. Dheeb is also suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as heart and stomach problems.
It is believed that the government has recently backed the creation of an alternative and rival federation, Bahrain Labour Union Free Federation (BLUFF), to undermine the GFBTU as a legitimate, representative and democratic organisation. The BLUFF leadership, with a number of pro-government columnists and pro-government parliament members; has been spearheading a fierce defamation campaign against the GFBTU. These campaigns have accused the GFBTU leadership of treason, defaming Bahrain’s image, and of being led by a foreign agenda. Recently, the BLUFF organised a rally outside a UN building in which the GFBTU, ITUC and ILO were denounced. In some cases, collective bargaining with GFBTU affiliates has been stopped without justification and been replaced by negotiations with management-backed trade unions.
Workers who had participated in the “Pearl Roundabout protests” have been systematically dismissed by their employers. The General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) stated that employers are refusing to reinstate workers under their previous contracts but are instead forcing them to sign new contracts.
All public financial support for the GFBTU was stopped, while the Chamber of Commerce and the Bahraini employers’ association continue to receive funding. A total of 55 GFBTU trade union leaders have been dismissed.
On 1 May 2012, riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades at World Labour Day protesters in Manama as they demanded the release of the jailed leaders of the 2011 uprising.
Mahdi Issa Abu Dheeb and Jalila Al-Salman, from the Bahraini Teachers Association (BTA), were arrested in 2011 for participating in pro-democracy demonstrations. They remain in detention.
Hundreds of construction workers went on a two-day strike at the start of July to protest underpayment and poor living conditions. The strike was called off after the strike leaders reportedly agreed to leave Bahrain and return home. The company director said that 10 men who had been “instigating the workers” to strike had agreed to voluntarily leave the country and return home while complaints about living conditions, wages and overtime would be looked into. However, the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society stated that the men had feared they were made into scapegoats and would be victimised if they stayed at work, so they had little choice but to accept repatriation despite their right to protest.