IndustriALL Global Union recently brought together key union leaders from metal, shipbuilding and energy sectors in Bahrain to look at ways of developing sectorial unions, in cooperation with the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU).
According to the Labour Market Regulatory Authority in Bahrain, total employment in the country reached 725,113 workers at the end of 2015, of which 60 per cent (566,785) are migrant workers.
Oil production and the aluminum industry constitute leading export products as key to the country’s national gross-domestic-product (GDP). The Aluminum Bahrain (Abla) Company owns one of the largest smelters in the world employing around 2,800 workers, including migrant workers. Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco) is the largest oil company in Bahrain with about 2,400 workers while Arab Shipbuilding & Repair Yard (ASRY) hires up to 2,000 workers.
The Bahraini union leaders representing workers in several companies said they faced a lack of cooperation from employers with GFBTU’s independent and democratic unions, as well as challenges on organizing workers in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are most prevalent in the country.
Union leaders emphasized the importance of more integration in global union work and exchange, as well as the key priorities of developing unions’ sectorial work in the energy and metal sectors.
Despite active women participation at the IndustriALL meeting on 3 March, union leaders attributed the low participation of women in industrial sectors due to the nature of the industries as well as economic and social changes in Bahrain over the past decades. Union leaders prioritize enhancing woman and youth participation in union work and leadership positions.
The participants were introduced to IndustriALL’s work progress at regional and global levels. Global Framework Agreements and operations of MNCs were also discussed particularly with regard to French-based Engie (formerly GDF SUEZ) operations in Bahrain.
The struggle of Bahraini workers goes back several decades to before oil was discovered in the country in 1932. In 1938 Bapco workers demanded: a workers' union; improved working conditions; that employers stop favouring foreigners; and job provision for Bahrainis. In 2004, this struggle culminated in the foundation of the GFBTU that organizes both Bahraini and migrant workers.
Kemal Özkan, Assistant General Secretary of IndustriALL said:
“Despite the fact that it is relatively a young organization, our sisters and brothers at GFBTU demonstrate exemplary democratic unionism in the MENA region. IndustriALL Global Union will make every effort to support GFBTU and its impending sectorial organizations, which represent the genuine voice of workers in Bahrain.”