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Amid unrest, Bahrain companies fire hundreds of Shiites

At least 16 Bahraini companies or government ministries have fired hundreds of mostly Shiite workers during the past week. Employees speak of being dismissed despite being on pre-approved leave or having received approval to stay home due to the unrest.

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He says companies did not follow proper procedure of notifying absent employees after five days that they risk being fired if they do not return to work. Only one of the fired workers interviewed by the Monitor received such a letter, but only after he had already returned to work.

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“The law says a company can fire an employee for absence for 10 days without reason, without cause,” Mr. Mohamed argues. “But the question is, is the absence without cause or not? That is what is challenged.”

Mohamed says employees cannot be considered absent under that law for going on strike, which is their right. He also argues the fraught security situation could be considered a cause for absence.

One worker told he was fired for protesting

An employee at Gulf Air, which fired at least 17 workers, said his dismissal was technically legal. He had been absent for five days last year after a car accident that fractured both his feet. The employee, who lives in Shiite village of Sitra, stayed home for five days after March 16, when at least 200 people were wounded as security forces and armed gangs attacked people there. He asked Gulf Air to give grant him some of the vacation days he was eligible to take, but the company refused.

And while companies appear to be trying to justify most firings by the absenteeism, Bahrain Islamic Bank employee Mohamed Al Hamad said his dismissal had nothing to do with being absent. His manager told him explicitly that he had been fired for participating in the protests at Pearl Roundabout, he says. His name, personal ID number, bank cellphone number, and position were posted in a threatening message on Twitter. He has had two promotions in his four years at the bank, and was recommended for another in February.

When 'pre-approved leave' becomes 'unexplained absence'

At Bahrain Telecommunications Company, or Batelco, meanwhile, employees say many of those fired were on pre-approved leave during or before the crisis, and they say the company has now called the leaves unexplained absences. Batelco has fired at least 85 employees, according to a company spokesman's statement to the newspaper Al Wasat. Bahrain's government holds a majority stake of shares in Batelco, like Alba and many of the other companies that fired workers. Batelco did not return calls requesting comment.

Abu Ali, a former Batelco employee and father of five, said he had been on vacation when the strike began. He called his manager and asked to extend his leave because of the security situation, and the manager agreed, he says.

He described masked civilians manning a checkpoint near his home and interrogating him about why he was driving into his own neighborhood that week. “I had to take them to my home to make them believe that I lived there,” he says. “Then I was afraid for my family. They knew where I lived. I stayed at home and didn’t even send my kids to school.”

He stayed away from work for a week. When he returned, everything was normal for a week, he says, until an abrupt meeting, similar to the one at Alba, when he learned he was fired.

“We didn't do anything wrong,” he says. “Our mistake was that we were on leave, and that we are Shia. Even some Sunnis didn't attend work, but none of them were fired.” He paused and laughed good-naturedly. “Maybe they will give them a promotion because there are a lot of empty seats now.”

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