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United States Seeks to Protect Worker Rights under U.S.-Bahrain Trade Agreement

05/07/2013

Washington D.C. – Acting United States Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis and Acting Secretary of Labor Seth Harris announced today that the United States has requested consultations with the Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain under the Labor Chapter of the United States–Bahrain Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The request follows a December 2012 report by the U.S. Department of Labor that highlighted labor issues stemming from the Government of Bahrain’s response to civil unrest in early 2011 in Bahrain and recommended actions to address those issues.

“Ensuring that workers in Bahrain – and in other countries – can exercise their fundamental labor rights is a top priority for the Obama Administration, and we expect that the action we are taking today will produce a collaborative discussion and positive resolution to these important labor issues,” said Ambassador Marantis. “We look forward to working with Bahrain to improve respect for labor rights through the mechanisms provided by our trade agreement.”

“My sincere hope,” added Acting Secretary Harris, “is that these consultations will produce a concrete plan of action, based on the recommendations in the Labor Department’s report that will strengthen labor protections in Bahrain and help prevent violations of workers’ rights.”

The United States is seeking consultations to discuss actions taken by Bahrain that appear to be inconsistent with the Labor Chapter of the FTA. Specifically, the Labor Department’s report details the apparent targeting of trade unionists and leaders for firing after a general strike in March 2011, employment discrimination based on religious (sectarian) identity or political opinion, and labor laws that do not provide adequate protection on these issues. The report recognizes that the Bahraini government, in particular the Minister of Labor, has taken important steps to address labor concerns following the unrest in 2011 by seeking the reinstatement of fired workers, but finds that problems remain with Bahraini labor laws as well as the treatment of certain reinstated workers. 

To view a copy of the letter requesting consultations, click here.

Background 

The U.S. Department of Labor issued the report on December 20, 2012, in response to a submission filed by the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) regarding the Government of Bahrain’s commitments under the Labor Chapter of the United States–Bahrain FTA. The AFL-CIO submission alleged that Bahrain had acted inconsistently with its labor obligations under the FTA in its response to civil unrest and national strikes in early 2011. The Labor Department’s report found that although the Government of Bahrain has taken important steps to address some of the labor issues arising from the 2011 unrest, including actions by the Minister of Labor to seek reinstatement of most of the workers fired, the United States should request FTA labor consultations to develop a plan with Bahrain to address remaining concerns. The FTA Labor Chapter stipulates that consultations shall commence within 30 days of a written request from either Party to the trade agreement, unless both Parties agree otherwise.