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The long road towards ILO–compliant Labour and Trade Union Laws in Iraq

14 November, 2013Erbil in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region of Northern Iraq was the venue for the latest discussions between unions and Iraqi parliamentarians and the Ministry of Labour regarding the ongoing struggle for acceptable Labour Laws in Iraq. The struggle continues!

High level delegations from five confederations in Iraq and the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) met together with representatives of ILO-ACTRAV, ITUC, IndustriALL Global Union and the International Transport Federation (ITF) over five days. The meetings were supported and coordinated by ACILS-SC as the latest part of an extensive program aimed at achieving ILO-compliant Labour legislation throughout the country. On the first day the trade union delegation met alone to prepare their negotiating positions and a further meeting on the final day allowed the next stages of the on-going campaign to be considered and an action plan produced.

A government delegation, including senior officials from the Ministry of Labour as well as the Labour Committee of the Iraqi Parliament, attended the three central days and extensive discussions of a draft Labour Law and a series of different draft Trade Union laws took place. Draft trade union laws had been prepared by the ministry, the shura council and the parliament as well as a fully ILO-compliant version produced by the trade unions with the help of their international partners.

Discussions were wide-ranging and goodwill expressed by all sides with a general view from all that future laws should meet international standards and conventions and be ILO-compliant. However there was no unanimity over what this required in practice.

With regard to the Labour Law a draft version, largely ILO-compliant, was discussed with minor alterations suggested. Such a law however would not apply in the public sector where workers and employees are covered by civil service legislation which in some areas is preferred by the workforce in question.

Consequently the proposals are for a separate law regarding trade unions and freedom of association and it was here that the discussions were more contentious. There was agreement that the two laws needed to proceed through parliament in parallel. A clear bottom line for the unions is that such a trade union law must apply to workers and employees throughout what is classified in Iraq as the public sector (over 80% of the economy) and it must also recognize the present day reality of trade union pluralism. The old laws of the Saddam Hussein era, presently used against trade union organisation, need to be consigned to the dustbin of history and a new era of respect for trade union rights begun.