x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Bahraini union members agree to strike

The head of Bahrain's largest trade union has called for a nationwide strike as a political dialogue between the government and opposition groups slows down

As many as 90 per cent of members from Bahrain's largest trade union federation have agreed to go on strike as protests continue.
As many as 90 per cent of members from Bahrain's largest trade union federation have agreed to go on strike as protests continue.

As many as 90 per cent of members from Bahrain's largest trade union federation have agreed to go on strike, the movement's president says.

The workers, who reportedly began their action on Sunday, include those at Bahrain's two largest companies, Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) and Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco).

"About 90 per cent of Bahraini workers in the trade union or outside responded to the call of the general federation to go on strike," said Sayed Salman, the president of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions, which represents 25,000 employees from 70 unions.

Mr Salman said the leadership contacted its membership on Sunday in response to continued unrest throughout the country.

A general assembly was not possible because of the "abnormal" situation in the country, he said.

"We called every single trade union and [the vast majority] of the trade unions said they had already responded to an order" to strike, Mr Salman said.

The federation's primary demand is for better dialogue between the crown prince of Bahrain and the protesters, Mr Salman said. The strike was also a response to increasing violence on the streets of Bahrain that posed a danger to workers going to and from jobs, he said.

"When it is safe for people to go back to work, we will review our steps," Mr Salman said, adding there was no time limit on a strike.

It is not clear what effects the union action is having thus far, especially as a heavy police presence has already shut down business activity in much of the kingdom.

A strike could hurt production at Alba and Bapco, which are important components in the island's US$22 billion (Dh80.8bn) economy.

The head of Alba's trade union, Ali al Bin Ali, said operations were not seriously affected at the aluminium producer yesterday despite 300 workers striking. The workers came from the "non-essential" departments such as administration, Mr al Bin Ali said.

A spokeswoman in the investor relations department at Alba also said the company was operating normally.

The federation first threatened nationwide strike action at the end of last month and said it would become part of the opposition committee, joining the leading Shiite opposition bloc, Al Wefaq, and other secular groups.

fhalime@thenational.ae