The storm of protest by Iranian automobile workers has no end in sight!

An unprecedented wave of protest by workers at the Iran Khodro automobile company has engulfed the largest manufacturer in this sector in Iran since the dispute broke out in late-October, with industrial unrest spreading across the company’s three major sites in the country.

Iran Khodro, branded as IKCO, was founded as Iran National in 1962 and is headquartered in Tehran.  The publicly listed company manufactures all kinds of vehicles and was estimated to have reached production of as many as 688,000 passenger cars per year as of 2009.

Industrial unrest sparked at IKCO Tabriz.

According to reports from the sector’s Union of Metalworkers and Mechanics of Iran (UMMI), at the beginning of November, the workers at Iran Khodro’s production centre in the north-western city of Tabriz were the first to take forward their simmering grievances at the significant discrepancy in pay between that awarded to their workforce compared with their counterparts at other IKCO plants elsewhere in Iran.

The workers at the Tabriz plant made clear their dissatisfaction to management at the disparity over the last couple of years between their salary levels, which have remained largely static, and the increased value for which their end-product is sold on the market.  Given the seeming indifference of management, the workers proceeded to down their tools and halt work at the plant.

According to Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) reports from Tabriz, the workers have stated that one of the major reasons for the strike action has been the decision taken by IKCO management to postpone the monthly payment of salaries.  Workers’ representatives have also pointed out that while car pricing is global and that IKCO had witnessed a five-fold increase in the retail price of the cars they produced over the last two years, their wage levels had nevertheless remained unchanged.

These grievances of the workers have been exacerbated by their growing awareness of the significant differences in wage levels for workers depending on which of the IKCO centres they are employed by, despite the fact that they are essentially undertaking the exact same role.  This controversy has been raised repeatedly with IKCO management by representatives from the shop-floor, though thus far the bosses have largely remained unmoved.

Strikes spread to IKCO Khorasan.

The unrest then spread to IKCO’s plant in Iran’s north-eastern Khorasan province, 60km outside of Mashhad, the country’s second city.  Workers there also demanded commensurate and fair reimbursement for their labour at a level corresponding to what the company pays their counterparts undertaking the same roles elsewhere in Iran – including the capital, Tehran.  This led to the staging of a rally of over 4,000 workers at the plant on the morning of Wednesday 10 November, pressing for their grievances to be heard and demands to be met.

In a forlorn attempt to placate the striking workers, who forwent their allocated lunch and rest break to continue with their protest, the plant’s HR head official attended the rally and attempted to justify the IKCO bosses’ mismanagement and unsatisfactory response to the concerns hitherto brought to their attention.  The official attempted to brush the workers off by referring to the parlous state of the country’s economy and made several empty assurances in the hope of persuading them to return to the production line.  However, the workers were apparently wholly unconvinced and instead told the official to go back to the CEO’s office and relay on to him an articulation of their demands – principally for an increase in wages and ancillary benefits establishing parity with those undertaking like-work elsewhere across IKCO’s plants, as well as an end to the imposition of compulsory overtime given its particularly derisory pay.  The workers insisted that their entirely legitimate demands be met immediately and that they would remain away from their workstations for as long as these are not taken seriously.

According to the reports, both the morning and afternoon shift workers remained on strike – effectively crippling production at the plant.

As one of the workers at IKCO Khorasan explained to an ILNA correspondent:  “For several years now, we, the contract and fixed term workers at the plant – who number around 4,000 people – have asked the company officials to eliminate discrimination and improve the terms and conditions of employment they offer us…  However, unfortunately, owing  to the poor state of the economy there has been no change in this respect or in terms of the contracts or income they offered, despite a several-fold increase in terms of production at the plant and the revenue we have generated [for IKCO] through our labour.  As a result, we workers were forced to stage this protest.”

The striking workers at IKCO Khorasan have promised to continue their action until they receive redress on the core issues of generally low wages and rates of pay; the huge discrepancies in wage levels for like-work throughout IKCO, particularly between Tehran and the provincial branches; and the failure to implement a proper job classification system based on job specification with pay, conditions, and ancillary benefits determined accordingly.

Strikers told ILNA reporters:  “We, the workers of IKCO Khorasan, want our demands to be met.  Our wages and benefits are different compared to other workers employed elsewhere at IKCO, but the company’s managers and the board of directors do not pay the slightest attention to our demands.”

Many of the workers have voiced their belief that the legitimate demands of contracted and permanent workers at IKCO have gone unheeded because of the non-implementation of a fit-for-purpose job classification scheme and recognised ancillary benefits – including proper remuneration for overtime – as well as clauses and basic provisions under Iran’s labour code.

Another striker quoted by ILNA articulated the workers’ desire for the implementation of direct and permanent contracts with IKCO and the cutting-out of labour broker intermediaries who are a constant and problematic feature across many, if not most, sectors of Iran’s contemporary employment and labour scene:  “The salaries we receive from an intermediary company do not provide us with a living, despite the similarity of our profession and according set tasks with those of the permanent employees.  The wages paid to them are in no way comparable to ours.”

Furthermore, he then went on to state:  “Another major factor in our problems is the lack of a real body to carry and represent the interests of the workers in our sector.” 

Thus, according to this worker at least, he and his colleagues are making the vital connection between the current situation in their workplace, and not being able to pursue and realise most of their legitimate demands, with the absence so far of a bona fide trade union organisation to represent them.  Unfortunately, this is a reality of the Iranian workplace, regardless of sector, where independent trade unions are strictly prohibited – and attempts to form one or engage in such activity carry the risk of severe reprisals by the Islamic Republic authorities – and in their stead exist the government-backed and employers controlled Islamic Labour Councils and Khaneh Kargar (‘Worker’s House’).

The developments witnessed over the last week are significant in scope given that worker militancy in the automobile industry in Iran is relatively unheard of, and for the fact that the Tabriz and Khorasan plants are the foremost provincial branches of IKCO in terms of scale of operation and production throughout the country.

This strike and the effective disruption it has brought about for Iran’s largest automobile manufacturer also takes place against the backdrop of continuing and growing industrial arrest across Iran – including amongst the country’s oilfield project workers, teachers, miners, and dam workers, as well as other critical infrastructure workforces.  Despite the continual hardships these workers endure, as well as the very real risk of repression from the security forces of the dictatorship, they bravely continue in their endeavours and the strength and momentum of these movements increase with every passing day.

CODIR has called upon activists in Iran’s labour and progressive currents to continue and indeed redouble in their efforts in support of the striking workers at IKCO, and for their counterparts internationally to demonstrate their solidarity with these workers so that they – and, crucially, the authorities in Iran – know that they do not stand alone.

CODIR also supports and campaigns for the full and immediate implementation of all relevant ILO conventions regarding labour rights – including conventions 87 and 98, regarding freedom of association and protection of the right to organise as well as to bargain collectively – which the Islamic Republic of Iran is beholden to as a signatory country.


By Jamshid Ahmadi, Assistant General Secretary of Committee for the Defence of Iranian People’s RightsCODIR.  For more information on CODIR and views and news on developments in Iran please visit:

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