They join 600 workers who have already been forced to leave government ministries and universities and about 1,900 workers sacked by private businesses this spring. While the Ministry of Labor has reinstated about a fifth of those fired, the most recent dismissals challenge official portrayals of the kingdom as going back to normal following the government's brutal crackdown, in which at least 30 people were killed and hundreds detained.
An independent commission appointed by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to investigate the crackdown could lead to more workers regaining their jobs. But some are losing confidence in theBahrain Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which has become a focal point for angry protests.
Sayed Salman, head of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBT), says he appreciates the efforts of the Labor ministry so far to reinstate employees who were unfairly fired, but says the proportion of workers reinstated is too small and has taken too long. He also rejects government arguments that dismissals, such as those taking place at government ministries currently, are disciplinary measures carried out according to law.
“When you talk about the dismissal of 10 or 15 people, that is one thing," says Mr. Salman. "When you talk about the collective dismissal of hundreds of people from different ministries, it is a systematic dismissal to get rid of anyone who is suspected of having supported the political unrest.”
19 Shiite academics fired last week
Last week, 19 academics and 40 staff members were fired from the University of Bahrain, includingAbdulla Al Derazi, who has been an English language professor at the university for 20 years and is also head of the Bahrain Human Rights Society. He says the university accused the academics of participating in protests, expressing political opinions critical of the government, and talking to the media. The university also accused Prof. Derazi of civil disobedience for being absent from work during protests – which he denies.
“There’s no grounds for what they did because it’s all unconstitutional,” says Derazi. “The decision was based on political and sectarian reasons.”
All 19 academics are Shiite, as are most of the more than 2,500 workers who have so far been dismissed, according to the count of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions. Bahrain’s population is about 60 percent Shiite.
Though Shiites made up the majority of the protesters demanding democratic reform from Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy, the movement's aims were democratic rather than sectarian. But the government has largely targeted Shiites in its efforts to quell the uprising, which began in February inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. The government called in Saudi and other Gulf forces to participate in a violent crackdown in March.
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In recent months, the government has sought to portray the crisis as over. It held a national dialogue billed as a gathering to address political problems, and released some of the hundreds it had detained during the crackdown, including two former members of parliament from the largest opposition bloc, Al Wefaq.
But activists and opposition members say the national dialogue didn’t address Bahrain’s real problems, and point out that those who have been released still face politically motivated charges.
The private sector firings largely took place in April, targeting Shiites and employees who had participated in protests. Many companies attempted to justify the dismissals by saying employees were absent. But some of the government institutions seem to be more open about the political reasons for the dismissals.