UN labour chief deplores call for Bahraini union leaders to resign or face legal action

20 June 2011

The head of the United Nations labour agency today condemned a call by prominent business figures in Bahrain for trade union leaders in the Middle East nation to either resign or face legal action, describing the threat as an act of intimidation.

Juan Somavia, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO, issued a statement in response to what he called “this confrontational ultimatum” by the Joint Committee of Major Companies in Bahrain – which are entirely or partly owned by the Government.

The small country has been beset by unrest in recent months as protesters have taken to the streets to demand greater democracy, part of a broader movement across North Africa and the Middle East since the start of the year.

As many as 2,000 workers at Government-owned enterprises have been dismissed from their jobs.

Mr. Somavia urged the Government to seek the immediate withdrawal of the business figures’ call for the 15 members of the Executive Committee of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions to resign or face prosecution or civil law action.

Authorities should “do everything to bring all parties to the table of social dialogue,” he said, citing “the very positive announcement” last month by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa for a national dialogue to start on 1 July.

“The threat of criminal and civil prosecution… is an act of intimidation which takes Bahrain still further away from the course of respect for trade union rights on which it had embarked since 2002 and which has been widely recognized and praised by the ILO in the past,” Mr. Somavia noted.

He said the ILO had been involved in intensive efforts recently in Bahrain to promote social dialogue, ensure the safety and protection of union leaders and encourage the reinstatement of the dismissed workers.

“Nevertheless, and despite the announced recommendation by a Government committee for the reinstatement of 571 workers, they however have not yet returned to their jobs. This will hopefully happen very quickly and continue with [the] reinstatement of all dismissed workers.”

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