Iraq still lacks legislation protecting workers' rights, guaranteeing freedom of association and governing industrial relations. In an effort to coordinate and consolidate forces, an IndustriALL Global Union National Council was established in Baghdad on July 10.
The current legislation, inherited from Saddam Hussein’s regime, rules out the existence of labor unions carrying out free and independent labour union activity. It prohibits independent organizing and collective bargaining in both public and private sectors, as well as prohibiting unions from holding funds, collecting dues, and maintaining assets. There are no provisions for the right to strike, and workers in essential services are explicitly prohibited from striking. In addition, harsh anti-union practices at workplaces through threats, intimidations, kidnappings, torture and murders are not uncommon.
However, in spite of this Iraqis workers have managed to form their own unions. In the last few years, six Iraqi affiliates representing workers in oil, petrochemical and electricity sectors have joined IndustriALL Global Union, and there is a large interest for further affiliation.
Establishing the IndustriALL Global Union National Council is a great step towards joining forces in fighting for trade union legislation. Six Iraqi affiliated trade unions are behind the establishment, and Assistant General Secretary Kemal Özkan was present at the founding meeting.
While in Iraq, Kemal Özkan also met with Mr Osama Al-nujaifi, Speaker of Iraqi Parliament, Mr Nassar Al-Rubuiee, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, and Mr Kanna Yonadam, Chair of Labor and Social Affairs Committee at the Parliament, discussing the current legislation. Under local and international pressure, the Iraqi government has drafted a new labour law, far below the trade unions’ ambitions.
IndustriALL made it clear that the law must cover the public sector. Legislation should also make it easier to form a union by ensuring that requirements follow ILO norms and standards – trade unions must be allowed to determine and establish their own democratic structures, and the law must provide effective guarantees against interference in trade union movement by government and employers.
The draft legislation is likely to be discussed in hearings in August. IndustriALL Global Union, in cooperation with International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Iraqi affiliated trade unions and national centers, is launching a campaign to support the enactment of trade union legislation, as parallel to the draft labor law.
“Our mission was very timely”, says IndustriALL Kemal Özkan. “If the trade union legislation is not adopted now, nobody knows when the next opportunity will be, and we cannot wait years and years for this”.
In the meantime, four Iraqi national centers recently issued a joint statement about interventions and violations carried out by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. The organizations jointly call “for the abolition of these measures and the recognition of the right to freedom of association and protection of trade union organizations without any interference from the government or any other party whatsoever”.