October 19, 2011—Faisal Ghazwan is one of more than 2,500 workers sacked for supporting peaceful, pro-democracy marches in Bahrain—or for staying home from work to avoid the ensuing violence perpetrated by security forces and vigilantes. Ghazwan recently spoke with the Solidarity Center about his and his co-workers’ continued fight for dignity and justice.
||The pro-democracy uprising in Bahrain began in February 2011. Photo by International Labor Organization
For 35 years, Faisal Ghazwan worked for Bahrain Telecommunications Company (Batelco), a public-private partnership majority owned by the Bahraini government. On May 9, 2011, Ghazwan, along with 256 other Batelco workers, was fired in the aftermath of a government crackdown against the popular uprising that began in February.
According to Ghazwan, on the day he was fired, police cars arrived at the site in an attempt to intimidate him and three co-workers into moving off a public sidewalk. They were waiting there for a response from Batelco’s human resources officer to their request to meet and understand the reasons for their dismissal. Since then, the Batelco Trade Union and a number of dismissed workers have tried repeatedly, and without success, to meet with management.
In an important show of solidarity, Batelco Trade Union board members are meeting with representatives of the dismissed workers and working as a group for reinstatement.
Following intense international scrutiny and pressure, the King of Bahrain has recommended that some workers be reinstated. Few companies, however, have done so. Even Batelco, a majority state-owned company, has not rehired anyone, Ghazwan said. Instead the company has begun hiring new staff, mostly expatriates.
The mass firings at Batelco and elsewhere violate the Bahraini labor code as well as international standards, “in particular those prohibiting discrimination on the basis of political opinion,” reported Human Rights Watch. Ghazwan speculates that the company’s plan is to say it cannot take workers back because there are no more available jobs, and then to offer the dismissed workers monetary compensation.
“Money won’t work,” Ghazwan said. “Dignity is what we want.”
In addition to mass firings, the government crackdown to quell dissent in the months following the protests has resulted in extrajudicial arrests and the establishment of military tribunals for democracy activists, according to media reports. The International Trade Union Confederation and others have reported that worker rights leaders and human rights campaigners have been among those targeted.
The Bahraini government’s violent response to the pro-democracy movement, carried out with help from troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has been well documented by news outlets and human rights organizations. Likewise raising international concern, a threatening media campaign—on television, billboards, and the Internet—has called on the public to report and identify “traitors,” leading in some cases to additional detentions and retaliatory dismissals.
As for finding another job, Ghazwan is skeptical. Some of his co-workers have been offered jobs at other companies, only to be turned down for failing to pass the approval process. He and his colleagues assume that they have been blacklisted.
“The situation is bad and getting worse,” Ghazwan said. “Nothing has changed. Those in power stay in power; wealth goes to those in power, and they choose how it is distributed.” In Bahrain, he said, “people will fight to get dignity.”
Interview conducted by Carolyn Butler, Solidarity Center Communications Program Officer.
Interview with Leaders of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (video)
Bahrain: Repression against Workers and Attacks against Trade Union Rights Are Still Going on
Bahrain Government Fires Hundreds of Employees for Political Views
Amid Unrest, Bahrain Companies Fire Hundreds of Shiites
Letter from AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, April 15, 2011
Letter from ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow to His Majesty the King of Bahrain, April 7, 2011