ITUC calls on the P5+1 countries to focus on human rights, and labour rights in particular with Iran

As the P5+1 countries meet in Vienna to negotiate with the Iranian government, it is critical that their focus be widened beyond the nuclear issue. We call on the P5+1 countries to focus also on human rights generally, and labour rights in particular.

As noted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran, the human rights situation in Iran is dire. Along with political dissidents and religious minorities, workers bear the brunt of the troubling human rights situation in Iran.

(1) The rights to organize, demonstrate and strike are ignored, and workers who attempt them are immediately fired. Many organizers are branded as agitators, spies, conspirators and insurgents and accordingly punished. Furthermore, a large number of labour activists are charged with criminal allegations, and their cases are ongoing. Many journalists, teachers and other social activists are either serving prison sentences or are awaiting the final court decisions regarding their sentences. At least 1,700 social activists are presently in prison for the exercise of their fundamental human and labour rights, and executions have continued unabated, at the unfathomable rate of three per day over the last twelve months.

(2) Large and key industries have become increasingly militarized and security-prone. Respectful industrial relations are virtually inexistent.

(3) Workers’ true representatives are absent in wage control committees which set minimum wages for workers. This is a violation of workers’ rights and deeply troubling in the Iranian economy which, last year, experienced 45% inflation in the commodities and municipal consumer services sectors and an even higher rate of inflation for basic services and commodities needed by Iranian workers such as shelter (in poor neighbourhoods), and regular food such as grains, dairy, red and white meat. As a result of this policy of eliminating workers from wage control committees, the average or real wages of workers dropped to 45% of last year’s values, and at times dropped to as low as 30%.

(4) Unpaid wages are one of the most important issues facing Iranian workers today. The objections of unemployed workers and the protests of workers who have not received their wages for six to fourteen months are still ignored. In large projects, payment of wages once every few months has become the norm. In such projects, a collective action to receive overdue wages (protest and strike) usually results in partial payment of the overdue wages and expulsion of the leaders of the action. Many workers demanding their overdue wages, became unemployed and are placed on employment blacklists, killing their chances of being re-employed. This leads to immense suffering for workers and their families. The security presence at the workplaces remains massive; workers still struggle to have their wages paid on time

(5) Widespread gender and ethnic discrimination at workplaces still continues. According to reliable and independent sources, women’s wages, particularly in small workshops, is only about one-third of what men earn for similar work. As well, some immigrant workers, particularly Afghan labourers, receive very little in wages. On the other hand, in oil projects, foreign workers receive salaries several times more than local workers. The government promotes discriminatory policies and has responded to the peaceful activism of Iran’s women’s rights movement with systematic oppression.

(6) Significant segments of workers (in workshops of 10 workers or less) have been removed from the Labour Act, which provides some protection to workers. In effect, this has provided employers with an opportunity to discriminate against workers. Practically, these workers, which constitute a large portion of the work force, are offered no protection. Reports suggest over 70% of Iranian workers are employed on temporary contracts, with no job security.

(7) Education and health in Iran are becoming more and more inaccessible to workers every day. According to reliable sources, more than three million children are prevented from studying in Iran and more than one million are child labourers. Iran has one of the highest rates of child labour in the world and no short term improvement is forecast.

During the negotiations, the P5+1 countries have the power to exert pressure on Iran’s leaders to better protect human and worker’s rights. They should make use of this unique opportunity.