Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Nuclear Power Overshadows Workers Issues

Shervin Shareie, Rooz Online:
As Iranian workers joined others around the world and celebrated the international labor day, they are also among the most deprived workers of the world. They have been protesting what they call government’s inattention to their calls and plight.

Mehr news agency reports that Alireza Mahjoub, the director of pro-government "Labor House" (a center that organizes labor in Iran) said that this year's demonstrations by workers had been inspired by developments and incidents in the Islamic world.

Mahjoub pointed out to leader's meeting with workers' organizations and said that the offensive cartoons again Prophet Mohammad and Iran's nuclear program as well as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s letter to Iran’s worker's associations were among the issues that would be addressed on Labor Day in Iran.

In his brief reference to the situation of workers, Mahjoub said that workers faced the challenges of temporary contracts, among other issues. Observers have found it rather surprising that Mahjoub actually made a reference to the problems of Iranian workers in his official talk.

From the official perspective and the placards and posters that workers were allowed to display on this day it was clear that to them nuclear energy was more important than workers’ trade issues and working conditions. But workers have clearly aired their disagreement with the priority that has been set by officials. They have said how could nuclear energy be more important to them than the pain caused by the fact that their colleagues remained behind bars for demanding their legitimate rights. How could nuclear energy be relevant when workers enjoyed no job security and employers could fire them at whim?

Ali, a middle-aged worker who works in the glass industry says, “Khane Kargar (House of Workers) is an institution where political rather than trade and professional issues are advanced, to please this or that political group.”

A few months ago when the minimum labor wage was officially increased in Iran, workers expected a rise in their pays. When that did not come and they protested, they were told government officials that the new regulations were ambiguous and so a small amount would be added to their pay. After the new wage regulations were passed, reports appeared that employers began firing many employees who had families. The reason appears to be that employers have to pay child stipends to those employees who are married and have children. And since they had acquired the right to fire employees by not renewing their short term contracts, they released them of work and hired new employees, this time single men. READ MORE

On the first of May, there were also reports that many bus drivers along with their family members gathered in front of the central headquarters of Tehran’s Vahed bus company and protested the uncertain status of the employees and in support of those drivers that had been fired because of last year’s strike. It is reported that the fired bus drivers too participated in the gathering. During last year’s strike, hundreds of bus drivers were arrested and put behind bars. Eventually, all of them except for Mansur Osanloo who was the head of the bus drivers syndicate were released. But the company refused to allow these workers to return to work and in fact fired them.

Workers are also suffering from bankruptcy and closure of manufacturing and industrial units. Many of the production units have reached bankruptcy due to government's tentative economy and industrial policies. These units are unable to produce and balance their employees and have therefore been forced to fire their contract workers. Government's decision to cut the bank interest rate has made other banks reluctant to provide producers with loans and credit lines. More factories and smaller production units are closing which means that more workers are being laid of. In the last few months, 80 production units in Pakdasht closed shop forcing some 8000 workers to be laid off.

It is under these harsh conditions that Khane Kargar prefers to air slogans on nuclear energy than to protect the rights of workers.