Iran: what does ending sanctions mean for workers?

22 Feb 2016, By

UPDATE – 23 February: Almost immediately this post went live, we heard the depressing news that teachers’ union leader Ismail Abdi (see earlier posts about his case and about Amnesty International designating him a ‘prisoner of conscience’) was sentenced on Monday to six years in prison by branch 15 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Beheshti Langroodi, who was temporarily released following his hunger strike in December 2015, was denied an extension of his furlough and forced to return to Evin prison on 14 January 2016. Other imprisoned teachers include Rasoul Bodaghi, Ali Akbar Baghani, Alireza Hashemi and Abolreza Ghanbari.

Iran is returning to the international community, as the nuclear weapons programme is ended and sanctions are being abandoned. Throughout the diplomatic standoff, unions globally and here in the UK have continued to demand that, whatever else happens, Iran’s international obligations to respect workers’ rights – especially freedom of association and the right to strike – must be observed. We have opposed the threat of war, but at the same time drawn attention to the way the Iranian theocracy has acted just like any other bosses club, cracking down on trade unionism and preventing workers getting a fair day’s pay for their work.

Now that the sanctions are being lifted, the Iranian government’s excuses are less and less believable. Without an external threat, violent repression of internal protest  is even less justifiable. And with growing trade, the money should now be available to meet demands for back pay and higher wages. But we are concerned that, as Iran becomes ‘just another regime’, the attention we have been able to secure for the harassment and physical attacks on trade unionists will ebb away.

Last month, 28 workers from Khatton Abad Copper Mines, were arrested on 16 January after taking part in a peaceful demonstration demanding the reinstatement of 170 contract workers who had been promised permanent positions. Like much of Iranian industry, Khatoon Abad Copper Mines is owned by the National Iranian Copper Industries Company, part of a major industrial complex controlled by the State. The workers were released on bail a month later, on 17 February, but continue to face charges. Global protests led by world manufacturing union federation IndustriALL were credited with the release, and the issue was even covered by the state-run Iranian Labour News Agency, although the coverage is no longer on the web!

Meanwhile, Haft Tapeh sugar company workers, who founded an independent union in 2008 following a 42-day strike, stopped work on 30 January to demand payment of wage arrears and on 13 February marched 7km to the governing authorities in Shush to demand their wages. The union’s leaders such as the blacklisted Ali Nejati and Reza Rakhshan have beenharassed and intimidated ever since the union was created.

The world foodworkers’ union federation IUF, which represents the Haft Tapeh workers, reports that on 5 February, a local news agency in Golestan Province proudly reported on a mock training exercise by the Basij, a nation-wide paramilitary organization supported and funded by the governing authorities, in which protesting workers were attacked and arrested.

So, despite Iran’s return to ‘respectability’, workers and their unions continue to be attacked. We mustn’t let the easing of tensions in the region to allow workers’ rights to be forgotten

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