Earlier this month, thousands of people took to the streets of Bahrain’s capital Manama to mark the second anniversary of the 2011 uprising.
The uprising, which broke out on 14 February 2011 – and still continues – was a call to end the absolute power of the ruling al-Khalifa dynasty.
The protests were met with deadly violence.
Tens were killed and thousands were arrested, imprisoned and sacked, especially trade unionists.
On the second anniversary, protesters were once again met with brutality. Security forces attacked demonstrators with teargas and birdshots pellets, injuring dozens and killing 16-year-old Ali Ahmed Hussein Al-Jaziri.
All this took place as the opposition attempted to start a dialogue with the government.
The ensuing discussion was described as “weak and meaningless” by opposition leaders.
According to Radhi Al-Musawi, the acting Secretary General of the National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad), “any political dialogue that aims to contribute to the restoration of calm and stability in the country requires prior actions that pave the ground towards that outcome.”
So far this hasn’t happened.
After Wa’ad’s party leader Ibrahim Sharif was sentenced to five years in prison by a military court, Al Musawi was condemned to the same sentence by a civil court on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the regime.
The opposition recently submitted a letter to the Minister of Justice, who represents King Al-Khalifa, inviting him to lead talks.
“Any dialogue and serious negotiations should be built on strong ground, like stopping excessive force, create a road map leading to success and implementing the recommendations of the Bahrain International Commission of Inquiry (BICI) and the World Council for Human Rights, which were approved by the government,” it said.
2011 was a dark year for human, civil and labour rights in Bahrain, where the authorities chose to wage a campaign of repression, arrests and dismissals, as documented by the BICI.
According to the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU), more than 4000 workers were dismissed after 14 February 2011, including 57 trade union leaders.
Various reports have been published with regard to the illegality of the sackings.
International human rights organisations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also accused the government of violating core human rights.
Earlier this year, the United States Department of Labor also issued a report pursuant to a complaint under the US-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement, finding that the government had violated the labour chapter of that agreement when it fired workers following the February 2011 uprising.
The government responded with an intense media campaign, hiring public relations companies in the UK and the US at the cost of over 32 million US dollars to try and improve its international image.
The Bahraini government claims it has reinstated 98 per cent of those who were sacked, But the GFBTU said that is not the full story.
“We do not look at the dismissed workers issue as numbers, but rather at their full right to return to their jobs and receive compensation for the abuse of those rights,” said Abdullah Hussein, the GFBTU’s Assistant Secretary General for Arab and International Relations.
The unions estimate that there are still 657 dismissed and suspended workers who have yet to be reinstated.
Furthermore, many of those who were reinstated were reinstated to inferior positions, with lower wages, and the loss of benefits to which they were entitled.
Among them is Yousef Al-Khaja, Head of the Bahrain Airport Services’ union. Two years on and he is still out of work, despite the promises of the Labour Minister and the company’s management.
This case will once again be on the agenda forward by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) at the International Labour Ogranization (ILO) Governing Body, which meets again in March, to respond to a request for a commission of inquiry filed in 2011 alleging that the dismissals violated the ILO convention on non-discrimination (Convention 111).
The complaint argued that the sackings were based on political opinion, which is prohibited.
On the basis of the complaint, the ILO established a tripartite report commission to review the sackings and report on progress made in reinstating all the illegally laid-off employees.
However, Bahrain is yet to ratify three of the ILO’s fundamental conventions – the right to freedom of association (Convention 87), the right to organise and collective bargaining (Convention 98) and the right to equal remuneration (Convention 100).