Bahrain has some of the best protections for migrant workers in the Gulf, according to a top International Labour Organisation (ILO) representative. The ILO has witnessed a surge in complaints related to workers’ rights in the region, but regional desk officer at its Arab Region Worker Activities Bureau Nezam Qahoush said “the situation is far better in Bahrain”.
He added a meeting of the ILO in Geneva this week would tackle allegations of unfair treatment in the Gulf.
“Violations against migrant workers is an issue that needs major attention in the region, especially with the kind of alarming reports of forced labour that we hear in Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“The Geneva session of the ILO will seriously address this issue.
“We are happy that we could follow up the situation in Bahrain with transparency under an office operated alongside the GFBTU (General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions) in co-operation with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).”
Other concerns to be highlighted in Geneva include the inability of workers in some GCC countries, which do not include Bahrain, to form trade unions.
“Overall in the Gulf there are many violations, both in terms of migrant workers’ rights as well as that of freedom of association and trade union rights,” said Mr Qahoush.
“This is on the rise and the regional desk has received hundreds of such complaints in the past one year.
“The ILO doesn’t differentiate between migrant workers and nationals, hence we observe both of these aspects with much concern.
“However, it is good to note that the situation is far better in Bahrain compared with other countries – especially the UAE and Qatar.
“It is far better in terms of democracy and transparency of trade unions in Bahrain, despite some governmental interference.”
The interference he was referring to centres on the alleged failure to re-hire a small number of those who were among thousands sacked in connection with unrest in 2011.
A total of 4,600 people were dismissed for allegedly failing to show up for work so that they could take part in anti-government demonstrations, getting arrested on suspicion of criminal activities or taking part in strikes called by trade unionists sympathetic to the Bahraini opposition movement.
However, some claimed they were dismissed for no reason.
Labour and Social Development Minister Jameel Humaidan has previously announced that 98.94 per cent of such cases had been successfully resolved, with only 35 workers yet to be reinstated.
However, Mr Qahoush claimed 50 such cases were still outstanding despite tripartite agreements between the Labour and Social Development Ministry, Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the GFBTU.
“We learn that there are 50 Bahrainis still under the dismissed category of workers and we support the GFBTU’s efforts to reposition them unconditionally,” said Mr Qahoush.
He also criticised the lack of public sector representation in Bahrain’s trade union movement.
“All 14 members of the GFBTU board are from the private sector,” he said.
“We feel there should be more public sector and female representation.
“This, we feel, is one of the essential and most vital move towards freedom of association.
“This is not unique to Bahrain, but common to the Arab region.
“Although national legislations champion public sector rights under their own clauses, it is important that all member nations of the ILO honour its convention – which supports the right to associate with unions.”
In addition, he said it was time all GCC governments – including Bahrain – ratified the ILO’s Convention 87, which guarantees workers’ freedom of association and right to organise.