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Iran: government trying to deregulate labour, says union leader

1 September, 2016Maziyar Gilaninejhad of the Union of the Metalworkers and Mechanics of Iran (UMMI) talks about the situation in Iran.

Question: What is the attitude of employers to unions?

MG: Employers do not recognize independent trade unions. With the flogging of the Agh Dareh miners, we entered a phase where the state disciplines labour at the employers’ request.

Employers see trade unions as obstacles to profit, while government aims to deregulate labour. In July, the government excluded more than 28 areas of the country from labour law and declared them free trade zones.

Q: Is labour law properly implemented?

MG: Whether laws are enforced anywhere in the world depends on the balance of power between labour and the government. On some basic issues, we can challenge employers and defend workers’ rights. But on bigger issues, labour law is ignored. The labour ministry imposes its own structures as the sole representatives of workers.

Q: Have institutions such as the House of Labour and Islamic Labour Councils had any positive impact?

MG:  In the thirty years that these institutions have been active, they have been controlled by the ministry and have no independent function. They are not worker organizations as they are ideologically exclusive - belief in Islam is a pre-condition of membership. They are state-controlled religious organizations. They have never done anything positive for workers.

Q: President Rouhani promised to address labour issues and trade union freedoms. Has he done so?

MG: Unfortunately not. His labour ministry has failed to intervene in disputes between workers and employers, and failed to prevent the security forces attacking strikes. The payment of the housing allowance has been delayed, while senior government officials have enjoyed a 50% increase.

Imports continue unabated while domestic industries are in recession. Unemployment creates havoc, but the prescriptions of the International Monetary Fund are implemented. The government’s main concern is providing cheap labour for foreign investors.

Q: Are the conditions for government and corporate white collar workers any better?

MG: There is no such thing as job security in Iran and the trade union rights of civil servants and private sector workers, white and blue collar, are violated every day in the same way.

Q: Has the signing of the Joint Compliance Plan of Action – the nuclear deal – improved things for workers?

MG: No. Our country’s officials promised that the economy would be reenergised with the lifting of sanctions and the return of billions of dollars in oil and gas revenue. These promises have not been kept, and the US and Europe have not kept their side of the deal by lifting sanctions in the banking and monetary system. 

To attract foreign investment, the government has intensified its programme of privatization and lowering labour costs. This year, trade unionists in the oil industry were sacked. Everywhere in the sector you meet workers who have not received wages for months.

Q: UMMI has been able to engage successfully with the international trade union movement, and in particular with the IndustriALL Global Union. How can unions in other countries support you?

MG: IndustriALL has helped us in various campaigns to reduce the pressure on trade unions. We have had important consultative meetings with the leadership of IndustriALL and we hope that this solidarity is expanded and strengthened every day.

We ask international trade union organizations across the world to use their influence in powerful bodies such as the ILO to press the Iranian authorities and employers to implement ILO conventions 87 and 98.

We believe that the strength, influence and success of any union anywhere in the world is also the strength of Iranian unions, including the Union of Metalworkers and Mechanics of Iran, and we celebrate that.