Workers are Treated Like Slaves in Iran

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Elaheh Azimfar

NCRI Representative for International Organizations

Protests by Iranian workers for unpaid wages and violation of their rights have been going on for many months but it has reached a climax following the Iran protests which erupted in December 2017 and January 2018 intensifying day by day.

There is not a single day when the workers’ cries and anger are not heard from across the country. Ahvaz steel workers, the workers of Haft-Tapeh sugarcane plantation in Shush, HEPCO machine in Arak, Kian Tires and many other workers in oil and petrochemical, machinery industries, telecommunications, railways, construction, transportation, education, as well as healthcare, municipal services and carrying of cargo are all demanding their unpaid wages on a daily basis as their protests are being attacked by suppressive security forces.

They are crying out with a loud voice that they are being treated like slaves under the clerical regime and its anti-labour policies. 13 million workers and their families which add up to almost 43 million representing half of the population are facing an unimaginable poverty and distress which indicate blatant violations of articles 4, 23, 24 and 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights.

International labour standards and conventions are totally ignored in Iran and there is no control mechanisms to safeguard their implementation. There is no freedom of association, collective bargaining and industrial relations. Child labour has turned into a common phenomenon as a result of extreme poverty. Things like social security and accident compensation look like unachievable dreams for Iranian workmen.

Worst of all is the miserable state of their wages. Many workers have not received their very low wages for months and even years and their protests are heard neither by corrupt factory owners affiliated with the Islamic revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) nor by the state authorities. On April 3, Iran’s Supreme Labour Council set the minimum wage of workers for 2018 as 1,114,000 tomans equal to 220 dollars a month while according to the head of the Supreme Center of Workers Associations, the minimum essential living costs for a household which was presented to the Supreme Labour Council based on the market prices was 3,700,000 tomans, more than 3 times the minimum wage set by the regime for the workers.

Iran’s state television quoted the Director General of Ministry of Labour on March 13, 2018 as admitting that in Iran compensation for service i.e. the total amount paid for the workforce including wages, premiums etc, is only 5% of the production cost which is the lowest figure in the world. This figure is 70% in the US, more than 50% in most industrialized countries, and 25% to 35% in countries similar to Iran.

It should be noted that this unacceptable minimum wage applies only to workers who are covered by the regime’s labour law. Earlier, head of the governing body of the Supreme Council of Islamic Councils acknowledged that 93 percent of Iran’s workers were contracted and outside the scope of the labour law. This means that they have no choice but to sign a paper to accept jobs that are paid for at a much lower rate than the minimum wage i.e. to accept slavery of the clerical regime.

Beside all these, from now on, the workers’ medical care premiums will be transferred to the state treasury instead of being paid into the Social Security Fund. The move, which followed Rouhani’s collusion with the regime’s parliament to include a clause in the budget bill of 2018, is yet another major plunder. Workers’ insurance premium are equivalent to 30% of their wages 7% of which is deducted from the wages and the remaining 23% must be paid to the social security fund. It is known to the workers that this money will never return to them by the government and they who always complain about the lack of health insurance and retirement pensions will be under yet further pressure.

Under these circumstances, the Iranian workers need considerable backing of the International Labour Organization (ILO) since the main aims of the ILO are to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on work-related issues none of which are practiced in Iran and available to the workforce of that country.

As the 107th Session of the International Labour Conference is going to be held in Geneva from May 28 to June 8, 2018, it is vital for the (ILO) to seriously take into account the pains and anguish imposed on the Iranian workers, to act in defense of their rights and to hold the Iranian authorities accountable for trampling these rights. Iran’s work force will expect and watch to see this happening.

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