Hundreds of Bahrainis who were fired following the country's demonstrations will get their jobs back after a government investigation found the dismissals were illegal.
A group of 571 sacked employees will return to their jobs as a "verification committee", chaired by the labour minister Jameel bin Mohammed Ali Humaidan, urged the employees be reinstated, the kingdom's state news agency reported on Friday.
Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the kingdom's prime minister, had ordered all ministries and government departments to submit reports on employees failing to turn up for work in March, at the height of nationwide political unrest in the Gulf's smallest economy.
Workers at companies including Bahrain Telecommunications Company (Batelco), Gulf Air, Bahrain Airport Services and later the state-owned oil company Bahrain Petroleum were dismissed during the months of unrest that started in February, when members of the majority Shiite population took to the streets demanding governmental reforms.
But internal investigations by the verification committee uncovered hundreds of cases in which dismissals were not legally viable under the country's labour law.
Under the law, staff absent without official permission for more than 10 days are subject to legal action and face a cut in salary or termination of employment.
The committee has also been ordered to speed up processing all the remaining cases, to ensure the legality of their dismissals, the state report added, without specifying which companies were involved.
Ali bin Ali, the president of Aluminium Bahrain's (Alba) trade union, which represents one of the biggest companies in the federation, said 130 sacked employees would return to the smelter.
"The main problem for our employees was not that they participated in political activities," Mr bin Ali said.
"The committee was only looking at the failure of attending work and issues like misusing the company e-mail," he said, although he could not verify the total number of employees sacked.
Alba, the world's fourth-largest aluminium smelter and an important part of Bahrain's economy, was one of many state-owned companies that took part in investigations into absent employees.
Some 300 "non-essential" staff from the company had taken part in nationwide strikes called by the General Federation, Bahrain's largest trade union.
It called a general strike in March to back protesters from the Shiite majority demanding greater freedoms from the Sunni-led government. Sources close to the Bahraini ministry say the remaining batch of employees from the 571 who will be reinstated in their jobs are from Bahrain's main oil and gas company Bapco, the kingdom's leading aviation company Gulf Air and Batelco.
A source close to the labour ministry said 767 cases had been under review in total, but that this did not represent the more than 1,000 people who have been dismissed from their jobs.
Jasim Ali, a member of the Al Wefaq party, the main opposition group in the kingdom, welcomed the move by the government's labour department, but in a note of caution said: "We want to have assurance of real reinstatement for us to know for sure that they are serious. It takes one month to fire someone [and] what really happened is that sackings did not go through the normal channels of verbal warnings, written warnings, a cut in salary etcetera."
The labour minister was yesterday in Geneva in talks with the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN labour rights agency, Mr Ali said.
The ILO has been vocal in its objection to Bahrain's mass sackings and "other repressive measures" throughout the upheaval.
Last week it urged Bahrain to give jobs back to at least 2,000 workers who were fired after striking in support of pro-democracy protests.