Flyer from IndustriALL protest to Iraq's Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, December 2013. Photo IndustriALL
Iraq’s new labour law: positive but ‘clipped’
Iraq has finally issued a labour law that complies with ILO conventions, up to a point. It is a good day for global justice.
The law provides legal protection for organised workers in the private and cooperative sector against unethical practices of local and foreign employers. It provides collective bargaining and it provides workers with continuous retraining to enhance their chances of getting jobs. And it provides foreign workers who are employed in the private and cooperative industries with legal and trade union representations. The new labour law is against age, gender and colour and race and ethnicity discrimination. The law prohibits child labour in Iraq. It therefore meets several of the core conventions of the ILO.
But not all of them. The new law aims to organise legally and constitutionally the industrial relationship between the state, business and workers – but only for workers in the private and cooperative sectors. The law denies legal trade union representation and membership to millions of blue collar public sector workers, including those employed by the state in the oil and gas, port and railway, public road transportation and communication industries and state municipalities. The law also denies trade union pluralism: Iraqi state recognises only one national trade union centre, only one teachers’ union and only one union for each sector. Pluralism is prohibited, despite being guaranteed by Iraq’s 2005 democratic constitution.
The reason for this is that the previous government of Prime Minister Al-Maliki deliberately and cynically removed the trade union elements from the draft text of the draft labour law, purposely creating two draft laws to prolong the suffering and misery of organised working people. On 17 August, Iraq’s parliament passed the draft labour law but not the draft trade union law.
Millions of blue collar workers employed in state-run industries are therefore still being governed by Saddam’s trade union law of 1987 which denies blue collar workers the right to trade union affiliation and to trade union pluralism. This must be reversed: the current draft trade union law must be issued immediately.
The new enshrined labour law, although it has had the trade union elements clipped out, is nevertheless very good for Iraq’s battered economy. It is an economy that is devastated by Isis terrorism, by low oil prices and by decades of lack of investment both foreign and national due to rigid and corrupt official procedures and due to the absence of an internationally recognised legal framework for industrial relations. The law will hopefully assist in reviving Iraq’s battered economy by attracting ethical foreign and national investments to create jobs and modernise the economy.
Despite the democratic deficit to trade union pluralism and trade union representation, organised workers across Iraq are optimistic about the future. They openly endorsed the draft labour law before it went to parliament for reading and adoption a few weeks ago in an open meeting with parliamentarians and lawyers in which the US trade union movement’s Solidarity Center and global confederation IndustriALL were present. Iraqi unions endorsed the law – despite recognising it’s ‘clipped’ nature – in order to win tangible rights for working people and in order to help revive the national crippled economy.
The political and practical help over a decade of the TUC and affiliates like NASUWT; global trade union confederations such as the ITF and IndustriALL; the ITUC; the ILO and the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center made the issuance of the labour law possible. From 2009-2012, the TUC, ITUC and the ILO and others provided financial and practical assistance to the Iraqi national trade union centre known then as the GFIW (now the GFITU) to launch a national campaign inside Iraq for a fair and just labour law. The labour law campaign, latterly supported by the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, gained huge momentum both nationally and internationally and it is widely accepted by the Iraqi trade union movement as a key factor that helped secure the newly enacted labour law.
The global trade union movement now needs to increase its solidarity support for Iraq’s trade union movement to intensify the struggle to persuade the government of Iraq to sign and ratify ILO Convention 87 (adopted in 1949). Non-ratification is a key obstacle to winning the adoption of the draft trade union law and thus securing the rights of workers to the trade union representation of their choice, collective bargaining and the right to strike.
Ratifying C87 would definitely pave the way for the Iraqi parliament to issue the trade union law. The Iraqi trade union movement is lobbying the Iraqi parliament on this fundamental workers’ right, and the Iraqi Parliamentary Labour and Social Affairs Committee have openly expressed support for ratification.
The newly enshrined labour law is a testament to the incremental and diligent struggle and efforts of Iraq’s organised workers and the tireless solidarity support of global trade union partners. That struggle must now be intensified to secure the trade union law. Iraqi workers deserve nothing less.