Iraqi trade unionists protest in Baghdad, the day before the conference.
Iraqi unions build protest on jobs, wages and union rights
2015 began with a fresh new wave of industrial action across Iraq (apart from Iraqi Kurdistan) organised by the national trade union centre, the GFITU. The action centred on several demands, including the immediate repayment of delayed salaries; rehabilitating and restructuring the Ministry of Industry’s 60 national plants (companies) and encouraging state departments and institutions to buy national products; and giving public sector workers the legal right to join and form unions. Other Iraqi national trade union centres conducted similar action and when possible joint and coordinated industrial action.
On 5 January, the GFITU joined officials from the Ministry of Industry, bosses from the Ministry’s 60 plants and a number of officials from the Iraqi parliament and media outlets together with leaders of other Iraqi national trade union centres in a conference at Hilla, in the Province of Babil. The purpose was to come up with recommendations and suggestions to assist Iraqi government strategists to come out with a coherent and fair solution to the Ministry’s problems and its 60 plants’ current economic meltdown.
The day before, Minister of Industry Mr Naseer al-Issawi said that his Ministry and its companies had become a major burden on Iraq’s national economy and a drain on the country’s national budget rather than being a key pillar of developing the national economy. He said his Ministry was at near total collapse and concluded by saying that mismanagement and rampant corruption were key reasons to blame for the decline in the quantity and quality of goods produced by the 60 plants.
The GFITU in its address to the conference demanded the Iraqi state listen to the legitimate demands of workers and immediately repay delayed salaries; stop bowing to demands imposed by the international financial institutions; and formulate, adopt and then implement coherent economic strategies aimed at restructuring and rehabilitating the 60 plants to make them world class companies able to compete fairly, thus helping to serve the national interest.
During an interview on the fringe of the conference with Al Mada Press, the deputy head of the GFITU said that:
“the reason for holding this conference which is attended by officials from the Ministry, bosses of the Ministry’s 60 plants and leaders of other national trade union centres is to ask the central government and national parliament that the rights of workers is respected, their delayed salaries are immediately paid in full and public sector workers are legally allowed to join unions of their choice.”
Said Nasser, Head of the Federation of Workers’ Councils of Iraq, another trade union centre, told the same media outlet that “those who want to privatise Iraq’s national industries have failed to develop a clear and coherent strategy to revive the Ministry’s plants.” These companies previously produced high quality goods that were a source of national pride. The international financial institutions had pressed for the sale of the plants to the private sector.