Strikes threaten Bahrain growth

22 March 2011

The country is only tentatively returning to normality after weeks of deadly pro-democracy protests

As the Bahrain unrest rumbles on and thousands fill the streets for the funerals of the latest protesters killed by the security forces, non-violent resistance is emerging as the new threat to the Gulf state.

A general strike organised by the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFTBU) has caused major disruptions to companies such as the state-owned Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco), where workers have walked out.

Production at Bapco’s Sitra refinery was cut to only 10 per cent of its 250,000 barrels-a-day capacity, but the situation for many other companies is different.

At the 870,000 tonnes-a-year Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) smelter, no production has been lost due to the protests and no strike action has taken place. It is a similar story for the metals park surrounding the facility with no downtime reported.

While it is always up to unions and individual workers to decide whether or not they feel strike action is a justifiable means of protest, Bahrain’s economy has taken a major hit.

The Alba smelter contributes around 13 per cent of Bahrain’s gross domestic product and the kingdom is hoping that similar metals projects being constructed such as the $1.2bn Hidd Steel Mill will provide skilled jobs for its frustrated population.

Bahrain has been a pioneer in many areas over the past few decades and industrial diversification is one such area. It would be a major setback if companies started to decide that maybe Bahrain was not worth the risk.

Strikes are an incredibly effective means of protest, but the GFTBU is walking the tightrope between what is good for its members and what could be potentially catastrophic. Hopefully, it will keep to the side that is right.

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