BWI: Since February of this year, human rights activists, workers, trade unionists, and in particular the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU), BWI’s affiliate in Bahrain, has been faced with repression by the Bahraini government. In addition to severe restrictions in their work, much of the GFBTU leadership and leaders of its affiliates have been terminated from their work due to pressures by the government. To date over 2,200 union members have been basically sacked from their jobs; thereby unable to provide for their families.
On September 4, Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the Royal King of Bahrain delivered a speech in which he stated he did not accept any infringement upon the dignity, livelihood, and freedom of any citizen. According to the GFBTU these words are to be the basis for discussions with all stakeholders in both the private and public sector to ensure the implementation of the Majesty’s orders in speeding up the process of those terminated workers returning to work.
In an effort to get an update on the process of these talks and the current situation the GFBTU, BWI proposed a mission to Bahrain. The mission, which was to take place on September 10, 2011 was to also discuss on-going project related activities with the GFBTU in promoting the rights of migrant workers, since close to 90% of the general work force in construction sector are migrant workers. Unfortunately, the mission never took place, as Jin Sook Lee, BWI’s Migration, Gender, and Campaign Director was denied entry to Bahrain since she worked for an international organization and according to immigration officials “lacked proper documentation.”
For the past five years, Lee has visited Bahrain on a regular basis to meet with the GFBTU to support its efforts to develop a national construction federation, which would be a vehicle to ensure the rights of all construction workers in Bahrain including migrant workers. In previous visits, she was allowed entry without any issues by Bahraini immigration officials but since February restrictive measures have been placed. When asked why she was being denied entry, when in previous occasions there were no issues with her entering Bahrain, immigration officials responded by stating, “Things are different now. We don’t want people to come in to Bahrain and later criticize the government.”
“The latest action by the Bahraini authorities by denying representatives of international trade unions to meet with their affiliates suggests that the Bahraini government fears international spotlight in the realities of what is happening in Bahrain,” stated Ambet Yuson, General Secretary of BWI. He continued, “The highly security consciousness of the Bahraini government is also indicative of the repressive nature that the trade union movement faces every day. In light of this action, BWI once again reiterates our strong commitment to provide solidarity and support to the GFBTU.”