WASHINGTON (AP) — The government of Bahrain has fallen short of commitments to recognize labor rights and prevent employment discrimination under a free trade agreement with the United States, the Labor Department said Thursday.
But the agency declined to suspend the trade pact, despite a request from the AFL-CIO. Instead, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis urged more diplomatic talks with Bahrain to resolve complaints about the Persian Gulf nation's crackdown on unions and labor reform protesters.
"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 in a statement.
Washington has been urging Bahrain's Sunni monarchy to talk with protesters and has publicly condemned the violence and mass arrests following a general strike in March 2011, which included journalists, activists and trade union leaders. But U.S. officials have stopped short of more direct action against Bahrain's rulers.
The 6-year-old trade agreement waives tariffs on industrial and consumer products for Bahrain, a key U.S. ally and home to the Navy's 5th Fleet. The pact is one of 17 such bilateral trade agreements with Washington, which also include Israel, Jordan and Oman in the Middle East.
In a 50-page report, the Labor Department found that the Bahraini government "did not take steps to remedy shortcomings in its laws on freedom of association and employment discrimination." The report — issued in response to the AFL-CIO complaint — said Bahrain targeted trade unionists and others for firing and criminal prosecution for their role in the strike. It also found that Shia workers and political critics of the government faced discrimination.