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Brave struggle of Iraqi energy unions inspires the movement

30 October, 2014IndustriALL’s partner organization AFL-CIO Solidarity Center this month released an important report on the status of Freedom of Association in Iraq's electricity sector. The report finds that new trade unions in the electricity industry have been central to building new union structures and achieving significant gains for workers especially in the public sector.

Public sector trade unions have been illegal in Iraq since 1987. The unions still form but have no protection from the judiciary, including when the authorities have seized their offices and finances. Government attacks on the public sector unions has included punitive court cases and forced transfers of activists to work sites miles away from their home.

Through interviews and questionnaires with a sample of electricity sector workers and trade unionists, the Solidarity Center study tracks the history of trade union development before and after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. The findings are that although labour laws have not changed, both new and pre-existing unions have grown significantly since 2003.

Key gains won by the electricity unions, as highlighted in the report, include the 2003 increase of 30% negotiated with the US Military Ruler; the 2007 new risk allowance of 75% salary after a confrontational campaign; the 2008 changes to job scales in the industry that made promotions more widely accessible; 2008 permanent employment for hundreds of contract workers, and payment of owed holiday allowances.

Following strong union campaigning in June 2010 a crack down came in July 2010 with harsh new laws including expanding the anti-terrorism legislation to be expanded to trade union activities. The study strongly found that the harsh crackdown by the Ministry of Electricity over the last four years was primarily meted out because unions were calling attention on serious corruption inside the ministry.

There has been a long-standing campaign for reforms to the Iraqi labour law, including with international campaigning and lobbying by IndustriALL Global Union and the ITUC.

IndustriALL Assistant General Secretary Kemal Özkan stated:

Our Iraqi sisters and brothers time and again inspire all IndustriALL with their brave struggles. Leaders of IndustriALL affiliates in Iraq have received death threats against them and their families, sham trials and reprisal dismissals. But they continue to organize and we will always stand by them in their struggle to build union power.