Iranian workers still fighting for justice
My colleague Mehdi Kouhestani, who now works for the Canadian trade union movement, has provided this update on a three day long strike in Iran which demonstrates the struggles trade unionists in Iran have just getting wages paid. Non-payment of wages is a problem in many countries, usually because it’s a get-rich-quick scheme for the owners, not because the businesses are in trouble.
There’s nothing specific that anyone’s being asked to do to support these trade unionists at the moment, but if you do want to show your solidarity with Iranian trade unionists, you should take the Education International/LabourStart action to support Esmail Abdi, an Iranian teachers’ union leader on hunger strike against his appalling jail conditions.
More than 1000 of the current and retired workers of Haft-Tapeh Sugar Cane Factory, Khuzestan province, along with their wives and children, have gone on strike demanding payment of several months’ unpaid wages and benefits. The use of profanity by a police officer present at one of the strike gatherings, in the presence of women and children, escalated the situation leading to clashes between some workers and the police officer. In response to the tensions, the officer used his weapon firing gunshots into the air.
This is not the first time that Haft-Tapeh workers have resorted to a strike to demand their unpaid wages and benefits. The workers have been engaged in numerous protests and strikes in the past few years for non-payment of wages and other benefit-related issues. They had previously gathered in front of the Governor’s Office, in Shush city, and have threatened that would do so again, should the management fail to pay what the workers are owed.
The current strike has led to the closure of a major road. According to the workers, the factory has been turned from an industrial complex into a security space due to the constant and intimidating presence of the police forces, who also escort the management team at all times. Security cameras have been installed across the complex–to the objection of workers; and, the daily dismissal of workers have become a routine practice of the management. The smallest sign of protest on the part of the workers would be responded with illegal arrests and detentions.
The factory owes the workers at least two months of wages and benefits, which also include insurance coverage suspended for three months. After many empty promises by the management, the workers decided to stage yet another strike. On June 5, the second day of the current strike, Siamak Nasiri-Afshar, (Deputy CEO), appeared among the workers threatening them with dismissal should they fail to return to work. He also threatened that the company would be shut down.
Previously owned by the government, the factory was turned over to private sector, which the workers deem incompetent and, therefore, demand that the ownership of the company be turned over to the government. They also demand the removal of Siamak Nasiri-Afshar from his position. Long overdue wages and benefits, suspended insurance coverage, unpaid retirement benefits, intimidation, illegal arrests, and prosecution of worker’s leaders have long frustrated this very vulnerable population of Iranian workers, who have been struggling with providing for their families as the result of the ongoing violations of their rights.
In October 2016, more that 500 workers of the company went on strike demanding payment of their wages, which had not been paid for three months. Mr. Nasiri-Afshar had engaged in the same intimidating behavior, threatening workers with arrest and dismissal. About 1800 workers were reported to have not received wages for at least two months. The company had not paid the wages of another 800 for at least four months.