International solidarity and indignation are rising as trade unions around the world call for the sham charges filed by the Oil Ministry against Hassan Juma’a to be dropped immediately. Hassan is the president of IndustriALL Global Union’s Basra-based Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) and is charged with “Harming the interests of the state” under outdated repressive legislation.
This is the first time an Iraqi trade unionist has been charged under penal code 111-1969, an archaic law that the Saddam Hussein regime used to repress state employees. The court hearings for Hassan have been postponed from 20 March to 7 April to 15 April, and now again to 2 May. The postponements are mainly due to the lack of evidence against Hassan, charged with organizing a strike and demonstrations on 13 and 19 February that allegedly caused damage at the Southern Oil Company.
The ongoing industrial relations conflict between the Southern Oil Company and the IFOU brought over 1,000 oil workers from several worksites to demonstrate at the company headquarters on 16 April.
The major demonstration kicked off at 10am on Tuesday in a strong show of unity between workers from oil fields in North and South Rumaila fields, Berjsiyya and other locations (see video here).
Management had repeatedly rejected calls for dialogue regarding non-payment of benefits from 2010, 2011 and 2012. As the 16 April demonstration grouped outside management offices chanting slogans, the General Manager came out again and informed the angry protesters that he had met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Al Shahristani, who authorized him to release 50% of the unpaid production bonuses from 2010, 2011 and 2012. He also promised to resolve issues that were within his authority.
The wider context of heavy repression of trade union rights in Iraq, especially in the oil industry, underlines the importance of the international campaign for a just labour law in the country. Repressive Saddam-era labour legislation has to be replaced through a process that includes national trade unions and establishes laws in line with international standards and fundamental principles of the ILO.