US urges talks over Bahrain labour unrest
Washington: The government of Bahrain has fallen short of commitments to recognise labour rights and prevent employment discrimination under a free trade agreement with the United States, the Labour Department said on Thursday.
But the agency declined to suspend the trade pact with the key US ally, despite a request from the AFL-CIO, a federation of US labour unions. Instead, Labour Secretary Hilda Solis urged more diplomatic talks with Bahrain to resolve complaints about the Gulf nation's crackdown on unions and labour reform protesters.
"We are hopeful that through engagement with our trading partner we will find a solution that is good for workers both in the United States and Bahrain," Solis said in a statement.
Washington has been urging Bahrain's Sunni monarchy to talk with protesters and has publicly condemned the violence and mass arrests following a general strike in March 2011, which included journalists, activists and trade union leaders.
Dozens of people died after labour protests that began in February 2011 by Bahrain's Shi’ites, who represent 70 percent of the population but are excluded from top political and security posts.
US officials have stopped short of more direct action against Bahrain's rulers.
A spokeswoman at the Bahrain embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Labour Department report found that the Bahraini government "did not take steps to remedy shortcomings in its laws on freedom of association and employment discrimination”.
The report, issued in response to the AFL-CIO complaint, said Bahrain targeted trade unionists and others for firing and criminal prosecution for their role in the strike. It also found that Shia workers and political critics of the government faced discrimination.