Bahrain trade union faces legal action
Manama, June 15, 2011
Bahrain's biggest trade union, the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU), which called for nationwide strikes during the recent anti-government protests, faces legal action if its board ignores demands to step down.
Some of Bahrain's biggest companies say they lost millions of dinars as a result and are now seeking the resignations of senior union officials.
If they refuse to step down, the firms - including Alba, Gulf Air, Bapco and Banagas - have threatened to take legal action against the union to recoup losses.
They claim to have lost around BD16 million ($42.43 million) as a result of strikes that have been branded illegal.
In a letter to GFBTU secretary general Salman Mahfoodh, the companies call on him to allow "competent unionists" to take the helm.
The GFBTU is an umbrella organisation for all trade unions in the country, but aligned itself with a coalition of seven political opposition groups shortly after anti-government protests started.
Our sister newspaper, the Gulf Daily News, has obtained a copy of the letter, which was sent on Sunday and accuses Mahfoodh of inciting unions to take part in unlawful general strikes.
"The leading companies in Bahrain call for the present union board to resign immediately to give an opportunity to competent unionists," stated the letter, sent by the group of firms calling themselves the Joint Committee of Major Companies.
It is headed by Banagas general manager Dr Shaikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, who signed the letter.
A strike was first called by the GFBTU on February 20, but was called off after security forces withdrew from the GCC (Pearl) Roundabout on the orders of His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander.
However, the GFBTU announced an indefinite strike on March 13 in solidarity with anti-government protesters, after police tried to move on demonstrators who blocked a major highway outside Bahrain Financial Harbour.
"The decision to call strikes was not informed to employers at least 15 days in advance according to the law," says the letter. "Moreover, strikes in vital facilities are banned and despite being aware of this, the GFBTU backed striking workers."
The letter says workers went on strike in hospitals, transportation and cargo companies, telecommunication firms, schools and vital government bodies such as Electricity and Water Authority.
Dr Shaikh Mohammed said the strikes were politically motivated and damaged the reputation of several companies that lost millions as a result.
He went on to blame the GFBTU for the dismissal of more than 1,800 workers, who lost their jobs for allegedly failing to show up for work during the strikes.
The letter states that companies not only lost money as a result of the strike, but also as a result of firing manpower whose training they paid for. "There should be compensation for all the losses incurred, including qualified manpower who were trained at the companies' expenses," it said.
"We will file a criminal case if the union board does not resign."
A GFBTU spokesman yesterday confirmed Mr Mahfoodh had received the letter. "He is attending the International Labour Conference in Geneva, along with officials from the Labour Ministry," he said, but declined to comment further.
Labour Minister Jameel Humaidan said on Monday that the government had allocated BD140m to support companies and organisations affected during unrest.
Mr Humaidan also met International Labour Organisation (ILO) director-general Juan Somavia to discuss sackings connected to protests.
He told the ILO official that several sacked workers would be reinstated within the coming days.
The GFBTU had registered 1,876 workers who were allegedly sacked from their jobs in the public and private sectors for skipping work to protest and taking part in strikes.
However, on Friday the Labour Ministry said 571 sacked employees had been reinstated after a probe confirmed that their dismissals were unwarranted.
A ministry probe committee is continuing to review sackings to determine whether or not they were justified.
The GFBTU says most sackings took place at Alba (388), Bapco (297), Batelco (160), Gulf Air (158) and APM Terminals (140). – TradeArabia News Service