Bahrain: Interview with Abdullah Hussain

Questions and answers with Abdullah Hussain, Assistant General Secretary for Arab and International Relations General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU)and member of ILO Governing Body.

Press release | Geneva, Switzerland | 14 November 2012

After the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions’ Congress, can you tell us what the situation actually is in term of workers’ rights in your country?

Abdullah Hussein:
Now the situation is very bad for workers’ rights and even for freedom of association .This is a long battle with the Government when they established and issued the law of trade unions in 2002, and in 2003 there was a decision by the Government who decided not to allow Government sector workers to establish trade unions and we were trying to discuss with them that these workers have a right to do so. But they refused until 2005 when we made a complaint against the Government here at the ILO in the Committee on Freedom of Association which looked at the case and asked the Government to review the law to give the workers in the Government sector the right to establish a trade union. But from that time until now the Government has not listened and still we have no freedom of association in the Government sector. But when the Government wants to do something then they do it and in October 2011 they changed the law and allowed more trade unions in each company “according to Convention No. 87”. When they mention this Convention, No. 87, you cannot chose one part of it and ignore all of the others – you have to apply all of it – and in this sense they should give the right to the workers in the Government sector to establish a union. And now the Government are attacking our Federation, the position we took in March, because we are fighting for our rights but they have stopped all dialogue: there is no collective bargaining, they have stopped everything, and they want to dissolve this Federation and establish another and present this to the workers of Bahrain; but still the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the ILO are supporting us because this Federation is a free and elected body, and we are continuing in our struggle and going forward and we are not stopping in asking for respect of workers’ rights.

In June 2012, the Committee on Freedom of Association has adopted his report with a case on Bahrain. From your union’s perspective, what is your view about this report?

Abdullah Hussein:
About the report on freedom of association, in the old report they said it was the right of workers from all sectors to establish a union and that they also have the right to strike but when the Government revised the law in 2006 they minimized our right to strike because in 2005 we had two complaints about workers’ rights in the Government sector, and in 2007 another about the right to strike and still they are denying us. It is very clear from the Committee on Freedom of Association comments: they asked the Government to review the law to give all the rights to the workers, even for establishing a union in the Government sector, and for the right to strike. And the Federation is correct and all workers have the right to freedom of association.

What are your expectations vis-à-vis the ILO for the improvement of social dialogue and, in particular ILO Conventions Nos. 87 on freedom of association, and 98 on collective bargaining, in Bahrain?

Abdullah Hussein:
Our expectations with the ILO are high and the ILO really supports us. We have a programme with the ILO backstopped by Beirut Office and we are doing a training programme for two years – it has been established. For the last month of this programme there are activities in Bahrain and experts should be coming into Bahrain from outside – as long as they can get their visas! Now the Government is using all methods to attack our Federation – they are preventing outside delegations from coming into Bahrain. On Conventions Nos. 87 and 98 even our tripartite agreement delivered in March 2012 – agreed in the Governing Body - it should now be up to the Government to ratify this agreement but up until now nothing has happened and still we are calling for the Government to ratify these two Conventions as they are a member State of the ILO and should respect its Constitution and all ILO Standards. Yet still we are struggling, and the Government is not listening, and they did not even start the process to negotiate over these two Conventions.