24 June, 2021Workers at oil and gas projects and petrochemical plants have gone on strike in South Pars, in Tehran and across Iran as part of coordinated action called Strike Campaign 1400, referring to the current year in the Iranian calendar.
Because independent unions are not recognized by the government and are systematically restricted, the wildcat strike action is coordinated by workers’ strike committees. The immediate demands of the strike are for better wages, adequate social security and better living conditions. The strike committees have issued a clear set of wage demands for each employment category, and have said that work will resume if employers meet the demands.
The strike mirrors a month-long wave of strike action by more than 10,000 workers that took place in the South Pars oil and gas fields in August last year. The 2020 strike action forced employers to improve wages and living conditions.
IndustriALL Global Union’s affiliate the Union of Metalworkers and Mechanics in Iran (UMMI) reports that the current wave of strike action started when workers downed tools and walked off the job at a number of sites in south Iran on 19 June.
The workers are employed by subcontracting companies who provide labour for development projects in the oil and gas fields. The subcontractors act as a buffer between workers and the oil and gas companies, and try to control workers’ demands by employing them on rolling short term contracts. The shift cycle is 20 days on and 10 days off. During the 20-day working period, workers are housed on site in communal dormitories. Most are technicians and tradesmen such as scaffolders, fitters, welders and electricians.
Conditions in the dormitories are poor and unhygienic, the food in the canteens is sub-standard and wages are low. Because the workers are employed through intermediaries, they cannot negotiate better conditions directly with the oil and gas companies. Pay and conditions are set by the contractors.
Contractors also routinely underpay social security contributions by misclassifying workers, which affects their pensions, unemployment and sickness cover.
The strike has spread across the country. Currently thousands of workers at 22 refineries and projects in the oil and gas centres, including Jahan Pars, Gachsaran Petrochemicals, Tehran Refinery and Abadan Refinery, are on strike, forcing a number of projects to suspend operations.
The strike is expected to grow as more workers are paid off after their 20-day shift cycle. Direct employees of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) will join the strike and hold nationwide protest rallies on 30 June.
In a statement published on its website, UMMI addressed the workers in the sector:
“The screws are tightened by our hands and the pipes welded with our sweat. No project can continue unless we assemble, weld, or scaffold. Believe in your power and stay at home – let’s see if the scaffolding erects itself!”
US sanctions have stopped most of Iran’s oil and gas exports. The national currency has depreciated and food inflation is extremely high. Before starting the strike action, workers protested outside parliament in Tehran as well as in Ahvaz, the capital of the oil-producing province of Khuzestan, to demand that petroleum minister Bijan Zanganeh address their demands.
IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:
“Once again, our Iranian brothers have shown tremendous courage and resolve in the face of oppression. They are taking collective action to defend themselves, to improve their conditions, and to demand that their homeland is built to meet the needs of the many. We salute them and stand in solidarity with their struggle and just demands.”