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Iraqi electricity workers win inclusion for 150,000 precarious workers

18 May, 2018Recent strike action by 30,000 Iraqi electricity workers employed on precarious contracts has lead the government to concede and provide 150,000 public workers from all sectors with the same pension and social security rights as permanent workers.

The electricity workers took unprecedented militant action, suspending work and occupying electricity facilities and gas terminals to fight the growing use of temporary contracts in the electricity sector, and the exclusion of these workers from social security.

The government had previously argued that public sector workers were not covered by social security law. However, in a statement released this week, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs confirmed that public sector workers are covered by the law. This brings legal protection to 150,000 workers who were not previously covered.

This is a major victory for Iraqi workers and their unions.

Speaking at IndustriALL Global Union’s executive committee meeting in Geneva on 27 April, Hashmeya Alsaadawe, president of the Basra Trade Union Federation, gave the background to the dispute, and explained that a tentative agreement had been reached. This week’s announcement confirms the union victory.

She said:

“When the protests started, 100 workers were dismissed. Workers responded by occupying sites across the country. This had the desired effect. All those dismissed got their jobs back, and all precarious workers were promised social security. They decided to end the occupation. We are waiting to see if the promises will be kept.”

Alsaadawe, who was one of the union negotiators, explained that the elections in Iraq had created a mood where people are demanding to benefit from the country’s oil wealth.

“Workers’ have high expectations,” she said. “They have been very active in demonstrations and on social media to demand their rights.”

The election was won by a coalition pledging to end foreign interference – primarily by the US and Iran – in Iraqi politics, and address the social needs of the population.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:

“Once again the Iraqi trade unions have set a magnificent precedent for the region. By taking this action, the electricity workers have won a major victory for the entire public sector. 150,000 workers can now rely on social security and pension coverage.

“Iraq is a country with an abundance of oil wealth. The people should benefit from this wealth. The Iraqi trade union movement is a very strong defender of social justice in the country.”