Bahrain bans strikes a month after allowing them

Tue 21 Nov 2006

Bahrain bans strikes a month after allowing them

MANAMA, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Bahrain has banned strikes and worker demonstrations in most business sectors, a month after labour law reforms banning the sacking of strikers encouraged a wave of trade union activity in the Gulf island state.

The United States has urged countries hoping to qualify for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) to amend labour laws to comply with international standards that protect worker rights, including the right to associate and bargain for higher pay.

Bahrain’s FTA with the U.S. took effect on Aug. 1.

"Strikes and calls for demonstrations in vital establishments are banned ... these establishments are civil defence, airports, sea ports, hospitals, health centres and pharmacies," Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa said in an edict posted on a state media Web site on Monday.

The other areas where strikes are now banned are transport, telecommunications, water and electricity companies, bakeries, educational firms and oil and gas companies.

The head of Bahrain’s trade unions declined to comment.

Since the ban on sacking striking workers was issued on Oct. 17, many workers in Bahrain, a U.S. ally, have either gone on strike or threatened to do so, to demand better working conditions.

Affected companies have included Aluminium Bahrain (Alba), the Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco) and Bahraini telecoms firm Batelco.

Union activity is rare in the Gulf Arab region, where few laws protect workers’ rights and a plentiful supply of cheap labour from the Indian subcontinent means striking workers are more likely to be fired than have their demands met.

source: Reuters