Labor-Rights Complaint Against Bahrain to Be Reviewed by U.S.

The U.S. Labor Department will review a complaint against Bahrain filed by the AFL-CIO labor federation, which said the Persian Gulf nation is violating terms of a free-trade agreement with a crackdown on protests.

Bahrain has a continuing campaign to punish union activity and is repressing government protests, which are backed by local labor unions, according to the AFL-CIO filing.

“The egregious attacks on workers must end, and the Bahraini government’s systematic discrimination against and dismantling of unions must be reversed,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation, said yesterday in a statement. “Workers must be reinstated. These actions directly violate the letter and the spirit of the trade agreement.”

Bahrain’s government declared a three-month state of emergency on March 15 after troops arrived to quell protests led by members of the Shiite Muslim majority seeking increased democracy and civil rights. Protests were inspired by the toppling this year of longtime leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

The U.S. this week put Bahrain, an ally and home for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, on a list of human-rights violators to be scrutinized by the UN Human Rights Council along with Iran, North Korea, Syria and Zimbabwe.

The U.S. and Bahrain signed a free-trade agreement in 2006, which included protections for labor. The Labor Department, which issued the Federal Register notice asking for comments, said it is seeking more information about whether Bahrain’s actions violate the terms of that pact, and will make a public report within 180 days.

“The decision to accept the submission for review is not intended to indicate any determination as to the validity or accuracy of the allegations contained in the submission,” according to the notice.

A phone message left at the Bahrain Embassy in Washington wasn’t returned.

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