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8 Iraqi Unionists Returned to Basra; Energy Workers Protest Another Forced Expulsion

11 August, 2008

While global labour pressure recently succeeded in returning eight Iraqi union activists to their rightful work locations, workers of the Southern Oil Company in Basra demonstrated to prevent another activist from being forcibly transferred. On 4 August, they staged a two-hour sit-in strike at one of the company’s Basra offices to prevent transfer of a popular unionist and effective worker.

The ICEM strongly supports this protest by activists of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU), and condemns the Oil Ministry’s efforts to weaken IFOU by mandatory transfers of IFOU stalwarts.

 Protest in Basra on 4 August

Last Monday’s sit-in was in protest to the removal of Jabbar Lu’aiby from Basra to Baghdad. The demonstration called on Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani to rescind the order to transfer Lu’aiby and change his status from Southern Oil staff member to a consultant.

Protesters said Lu’aiby should be praised rather than punished for his role in raising Southern Oil’s output from zero to 2.25 million barrels per day in the aftermath of the occupation. Meanwhile, IFOU will join the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW) and other civil society groups today, 11 August, in a protest against the proposed Hydrocarbons Law.

They, as well, are protesting enactment of a recent law by the Finance Ministry that will revise the manner in which promotion of salaries are implemented for workers in the public sector.

In spring 2008, the Ministry of Oil transferred at least eight IFOU trade union activists away from their homes and co-workers of the Southern Oil Co. in and around Basra so as to erase their trade union activity. Union pressure, notably at the ILO’s June 2008 International Labour Conference by the UK’s Trades Union Congress, the US AFL-CIO, and Global Union Federations ICEM, Education International (EI), and Public Services International (PSI), brought the eight activists back to Basra and to their rightful jobs in the early days of August.

The Iraqi government used the same trick in 2005 on leaders of the GFIW-affiliated port workers’ union in Um Asr in 2005. Global and Iraqi trade union opposition then prevented those transfers.