May Day 2012 in Iran
The steep economic downturn, spreading plant closures, high inflation rates, and political repression have caused great strain on the Iranian working class in 2012.
While workers across the globe held marches and rallies celebrating the international workers’ day, Iranian workers’ requests for a march or for celebrations were flatly turned down for the fifth consecutive year this year. Even the official labor organizations were denied permits. While the Interior Ministry feigned ignorance concerning requests for permits, the Iranian Labor News Agency published a copy of the formal request by the Workers House lodged on April 10. With no permits forthcoming, a small gathering was held at the Workers House main office where Alireza Mahjoub and Hassan Sadeghi, the head and executive deputy of the Workers House, made lukewarm speeches complaining about the refusal to grant ten permits. They also discussed a series of grievances about official practices.
A small impromptu gathering took place in the Kurdish city of Sanadaj. According to the reports by Free Union of Iranian Workers, on Tuesday evening May 1st, hundreds of workers in that city congregated at Sirus street chanting “we are workers, we are hungry”, “workers workers, solidarity”. The workers rally and march planned for Ferdowsi square was canceled due to heavy security presence. The Sirus march was clamped down quickly. According to Mokarian News Agency, the workers held signs reading: “bread, housing, liberty” and “imprisoned workers should be released”.
The Economic Woes and the Cuts in State Subsidies Program
The Subsidies Elimination Plan is to go into its second phase any day now. According to the Central Bank statistics released on April 28, the monthly minimum wages in 2010 lost the equilateral of $170 to inflation. The 2011 numbers, though not released, indicate even further erosion of purchasing power of the workers. Alireza Mahjoub, the head of the Workers House and a parliamentary deputy, recently declared that: “according to the official statistics, 100 thousand workers lost their jobs last year in more than 1000 production facilities in the country.” According to Mahjoub, the unemployment rate amongst women is twice the number for men and the women in many large facilities and carpet weaving plants receive two thirds of the wages ratified by the High Council on Labor. Fearing losing their jobs, “they (the workers) often refrain from making any complaints.”
According to Mohammad Nahavandian, the head of Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Mines, “what we have presented (on the implementation of state subsidies elimination plan) indicates that the 30% of government earnings earmarked for the production sector has not actually been delivered and this has resulted in the closing down of many production facilities.”
According to the official statistics, in the course of the last two years, the official employed population declined from more than 21 million to 20 million and 500 thousand. The rate of decline is now even more steep.
Faramarz Tofighi, a labor activist and member of the Wages Committee says: “Due to current crisis in the production facilities, 30% of workers in these facilities have lost their jobs since March 20, the persian new year”.
Many of the workers still holding their jobs suffer from wage theft or not receiving their earnings for months on end, and in some cases for more than one year. Many of the strikes and protests go back to this issue.
By the end of the last Iranian new year, ending in March, the official minimum wage was set at 250 dollars a month (390,000 toman). According to Mohammad Saki, an inspector with the High Council of Islamic Labor in Iran, “the poverty line in Tehran province is about 1 million 50 thousand tomans (or 670 dollars) a month while the workers wages is short of 600 thousand tomans (400 dollars).”
Ismael Haghparast a member of the steering committee of Housing says: “Today the minimum wage set by the High Council on Labor is 390 thousand toman (equivalent of 260 dollars), hence, the workers earn half of what is said to be the poverty line. You can not expect a person receiving less than the poverty wages to be able to buy a house.”
Blank Signature Contracts
According to Abolfazl Fathollahi, deputy head of High Center for Iranian Workers Trade Associations, more than fifty percent of the contracts between the workers and employers is based on blank signature contracts. This is of importance since 85 percent of work places in the country are small facilities and are exempt from the Labor Law. According to Fathollahi, “70 percent of women agree to the employers terms while this is 30 percent for the men, in other words less men are willing to work with terms less than written into the Labor Law.”
The economic hardship in the country and the huge pool of job applicants have resulted in an employees market where the employers can easily impose their own terms. With the implementation of the so-called state subsidies elimination plan and loss of state energy subsidies, it is not only the smaller facilities but also large plants that have shifted towards temporary and blank signature contracts with female workers suffering much of the consequences for now.