Teachers protest unfair treatment!

In recent weeks, Iran has witnessed a resurgence of industrial action amongst teachers and others working in the country’s beleaguered state education sector.  Iranian teachers have resorted to strikes and protests owing to the issues of long-unpaid salaries, withholding of sector benefits, continued refusals to implement and apply a fit and proper job grading system, intimidation towards organised activists by officialdom (and the security forces operating under their instruction and watch), as well as a wave of arbitrary layoffs that have affected teachers in some provinces.

These actions have included the gathering of a large number of contracted teachers and educational workers in front of the regional government headquarter in Shahrekord, the capital of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province in central Iran, protesting the sheer number of arbitrary layoffs of teaching staff that have taken place there in recent months.  “126 teachers have been fired just here [Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province] during this academic year alone.” claimed one of the protestors at this demonstration.

These current actions are the culmination of years of pained efforts by Iranian teachers, with their representatives in the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association (ITTA), to get their salaries paid and receive proper redress over numerous concerns they have articulated about their workplace and the general state of the sector they work in.  From constant intimidation to arbitrary dismissal and blacklisting, their courageous campaign has been fraught with difficulty, risk, and danger.  The charismatic leader of the ITTA, Ismail Abdi, still languishes in prison – having been sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment on charges of “endangering national security” merely on account of his legitimate trade union work – and there are ever growing concerns for his safety, health and wellbeing.

Independent trade unions are not allowed to officially operate in Iran, strikers often lose their jobs and risk arrest, and union leaders who attempt to organise workers and bargain collectively are prosecuted under national security charges and sentenced to long prison sentences.

Abdi was arrested on 27th June 2015 by the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization a week after being prevented from leaving Iran to attend an international teachers’ conference organised by Education International in Canada. He was subsequently sentenced to six years in prison by Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court and is currently serving a ten years sentence.

Punishment of a sector “that nurtures humanity”…

Eskandar Lotfi, a spokesperson for the Coordinating Council of Teachers and Education Workers’ Trade Unions, in a recent interview quote explained that while his sector is one “that nurtures humanity” and the youth of Iran, its workers have had to bear the brunt of an approach from the state that frames their work and its worth according to consmerism and the prevailing market forces.

Mr Lotfi stated, “The current level of inflation in Iran is enormously high and unprecedented in the past fifty years.  It has been claimed that finance raised so as to increase the salaries of employees in the sector was from the sale of assets and property.  However, according to Abdolnaser Hemmati, former governor of the Central Bank of Iran, the finance was raised directly from the Central Bank, i.e. they simply printed further currency.  This caused the country’s liquidity [in the form of state debt to the banks] to grow eightfold during the two terms of the “government of prudence and hope” [the administration of former president, Hassan Rouhani].  As a result, the purchasing power of all employees drastically reduced.  Thus, for our young employees, the issues of purchasing a house or car are no longer foremost amongst their concerns…  Instead, they are faced with the increasingly difficult task of trying to make basic ends meet!”

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