U.S. government report faults Bahrain 2011 labor crackdown

WASHINGTON Thu Dec 20, 2012 3:31pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Bahrain appears to have violated commitments it made to the United States to protect workers' rights in its response to a March 2011 general strike at the time of the Arab Spring, the U.S. Labor Department said in a report on Thursday.

"It is our duty to ensure that trading partners meet their commitments to labor standards in free trade agreements," U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said in a statement.

The report stopped short of recommending legal action under the U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement, which went into force in 2006. Instead it called for consultations between the two countries on labor rights concerns.

"We are hopeful that through engagement with our trading partner we will find a solution that is good for workers both in the United States and Bahrain," Solis said.

Bahrain, a small island country in the Gulf off the coast of Saudi Arabia, is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet.

"In the widespread dismissals after the March 2011 general strike, trade unionists and leaders were targeted for firing and, at times, criminal prosecution for their role in the strike, and Shia workers and political critics of the government faced discrimination," the Labor Department said.

"The report notes that the reinstatement process for these dismissed workers has raised additional concerns of violations of freedom of association and political and sectarian-based discrimination against Shia workers, which reflect the larger context of a deteriorating labor rights environment in Bahrain."

(Reporting By Doug Palmer; Editing by Sandra Maler and Mohammad Zargham)

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