Akbar Falahzadeh describes the deteriorating situation for workers in the Islamic Republic with ever-rising inflation, the decline of the manufacturing sector and mismanagement of the economy.
“Do you know what it means to be destitute?” This is the question on the mind of the majority of Iranian workers. The current catastrophic situation for workers is unprecedented in Iranian history.
Workers’ wages relative to inflation are now a pittance in Iran and they hardly cover family expenses. But even this low income is held back for many months. An economy based on brokerage is a stranger to manufacturing, and in such an economy there is no clear definition of labour and worker; everything is temporary and unstable. Now, when such a precarious economy is also faced with sanctions and a currency crisis, the situation becomes truly confused. Factories and workshops close one after the other, and workers are laid off. Those workshops that appear to be still functioning are facing shortages in raw material and a decline in demand. The market is flooded with low-quality Chinese goods of all kind, which leaves no room for domestic manufacturing. Domestic production costs are high and cannot compete with the heaps of low-quality foreign goods. And workers are the first victims of this haphazard situation.
Labour activists report that 80 percent of workers live below the poverty line. And their situation, mostly with spouses and children, is almost unimaginable. Providing for food and rent as well as the medical and educational needs of their children is almost impossible. It is not surprising that most of the people who sell their kidneys are from such families.
It is hard to believe that the workers at the Mazandaran textile factory have not been paid for 16 months, but unfortunately it is true. The director of the Worker’s House of Mazandaran says workers gathered in front of the governor’s office to protest their situation but made no headway.
The Mazandaran Textile Factory is one of biggest in the country, and not so long ago it had 7,000 workers, but the workforce has now been reduced to 700. The head of the Worker’s House has blamed the situation on inflation, with the rising prices triggered by the reduction of government subsidies along with government mismanagement.
Given such a critical situation, the head of the Mazandaran Worker’s House speaks in all frankness: “Can you imagine not getting paid for 16 months? Have ever gone home empty-handed and ashamed in front of you wife and children? Do you realize that unemployment and 16 months of backlogged pay results in poverty and social dysfunction as well as moral and financial corruption? Have you any idea what it means to be destitute?”
He questions political games and electioneering, saying: “Production and employment do not care about reformist or principalist…. Instead of political games and partisan stubbornness, you must find a way to save the people and think about true public service.” He adds that the Ahmadinejad administration failed to make any significant improvement in the lives of the Mazandaran Textile Factory workers, like all administrations before it.
Aftab news reports that many workers at production units in the city of Ghazvin have faced a similar fate. They have not received their pay for more than a year and some for even longer than that. The Takestan representative in Parliament, Amir Taherkhani, says: “When one thinks of how these citizens will pass their Norooz [Iranian New Year], it is unbearable.”
Workers at the Hamid China Factory are in even worse shape. The factory was shut down two years ago, and the workers have not received any income since then. They gather from time to time in front of the Qom Province social services office.
A worker at the Ahvaz Pipe Manufacturing Company told Radio Javan: “I have not been paid in two years. I have no job security. Some of us have resorted to selling our kidneys and driving taxis.”
Workers at Fars Long Distance Communications have it worse yet. They reportedly have not been paid for 26 months. The Persian section of Deutsche Welle reported two years ago that one of the workers, under financial stress from the loss of his job, hanged himself on a pole in front of the factory.
In 2009, when President Ahmadinejad travelled to the region, the government delegation announced that 15 billion toumans would be allocated to paying the workers’ unpaid wages. The delegation also called on the ministries of defence, industry and communications to extend some of their projects to this factory. Workers report, however, that their unpaid wages were never paid, and the plant, which used to be a publicly owned factory, was handed over to the private sector and has never recovered from its decline.
The record for unpaid wages is held by workers at the Kashan Textile Factory, who have not been paid for more than 32 months. In 2008, a government delegation headed by President Ahmadinejad made similar promises to the Kashan workers, but none of the promises has been kept to date.
The workers gathered in front of the governor’s office dressed in shrouds but made no headway in solving their problems. Reports indicate that most of these workers are veterans of the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, which means they are eligible for a number of government benefits; however, their economic situation is so dire that even these social benefits make no significant change in their lives.
The government has chosen to arrest workers instead of assisting them
Mansour Osanloo, the head of the Vahed Company bus drivers’ union, was jailed for four years and was only recently released after a wave of international pressure.
Human Rights Watch has expressed repeated concern over the situation of several prominent labour and union activists, including Reza Shahabi, Ali Nejati, Ebrahim Madadi and Behnam Ebrahimzadeh.
All members of independent unions are continuously harassed and persecuted by the government, and most recently, Human Rights Watch announced that scores of labour activists have been arrested in Tehran, Eastern Azerbaijan and Kurdistan in a renewed crackdown.
Independent unions have protested against new labour laws being pushed through by the Ahmadinejad administration on the grounds that they make job security and workers’ benefits a thing of the past.
The International Covenants on Civil and Economic Rights guarantee the right to establish and join labour unions. Iran is a member of the International Labour Organization and a signatory to these covenants. But it has so far refused to sign article 87, which grants the freedom of assembly and the right to establish associations, and article 98, which guarantees the right to organize and negotiate as a group.
Despite all restrictions, there is broad international solidarity with the struggles of Iranian workers: five French unions, including the CGT (General Confederation of Labour), have issued a joint statement protesting their Iranian counterparts’ lack of basic labour rights, such as the right to strike, demonstrate and establish unions. They’ve announced that they will hold a night of solidarity with Iranian workers on March 16 in Paris.
[translated from the orginal in Persian]