ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Workers from two major Iranian factories in the Khuzestan Province on Tuesday continued protests that began nearly three weeks ago, demanding, most notably, long overdue paychecks.
Employees of the privately-owned Tapeh Sugar Cane factory located in Shush city have been demonstrating in front of the governorate building for the past 23 days after multiple months of missed salaries.
Rallies continued on Tuesday with protesters chanting in defense of a Workers’ Union member within the company, Ismail Bakhsi, who was arrested.
During last week’s round of public gatherings, which the organizers claim are peaceful, security forces interrupted demonstrators and arrested a number of activists and syndicate members. Most were later released but Bakhsi, however, along with journalist and activist Sepideh Ghaliyan, remain detained.
Among chants, more rhythmic in Farsi, heard during the Monday gathering were: “They captured Ismael, we are all Bakhsi” and “Inflation, high prices, Rouhani respond!,” with the latter referring to Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, whose government is struggling to manage the country’s finances.
The economy has been further strained by tough US sanctions re-imposed after Washington left the Iran nuclear deal after Washington argued it had empowered Tehran’s regional ambitions and allowed the Iranian regime to finance extraterritorial activities.
Iran’s semi-official labor media outlet, ILNA, recently claimed in a report that the workers were paid their wages, seemingly trying to defuse public anger. Protesters, however, state the opposite.
Demonstrators say problems of missed wages and the deterioration of safety standards began with the 2015 privatization of the factory – first nationalized in 1979 after the “Islamic revolution.”
However, strikes over unpaid salaries and management issues have been longstanding in the Haft Tapeh factory, even before its privatization, with one instance in 2008 when workers went on a 42-day strike to demand long-standing payments in arrears.
“Haft Tapeh workers have always had to fight for their wages and pensions and their rights,” the International Union of Food and Allied Workers (IUF) said in a statement posted on their website December 2017.
Workers also speak of corruption with the privatization deal, claiming the deal had benefitted wealthy individuals with close government ties. The new owners later tightened control over the company in an alleged effort to maximize profits without regard to the earned wages of their employees.
“Conditions at Haft Tapeh have worsened since the company was privatized in a murky 2015 privatization deal. Pension benefits have been suspended due to the company’s failure to pay into the state social-security scheme,” the Geneva-based IUF continued.
The company has reportedly rejected calls for unionization and stated: “this protest will achieve nothing besides creating disorder and many problems for us.”
Men of Steel
On the same day as the Tapeh demonstrations, videos posted on Iranian social media pages showed workers of the Ahvaz Steel Factory crying out anti-government mantras in a recent gathering in front of the Governor’s office. Their protests have been ongoing for the past 18 days.
“Down with the deceitful government,” workers shouted in one video from Saturday.
As chants went on, rights group Iran-HRM reported, deployed riot police officers started attacking demonstrators, with some alleging the use of batons to beat protesters.
On Tuesday, workers again took to Ahvaz’s streets guarded and closely watched by security forces as the march went on.
“IS THERE NO ONE WHO WILL HEAR OUR VOICE,” one protester said, surrounded and videoed by other participants.
“We steelworkers fight against cruelty and oppression.”
After recent sales of products, “the main priority of the company will be the payment of workers’ salaries” claimed the managing director of the National Steel Group of Iran quoted by ILNA.
“Monthly wage payments will be made to the workers this month, and the rest [of the missed salaries] will be credited to the workers’ account in January.”
Such promises have been made to workers in the past. Despite the factory directors’ compliance with their statements at times, the missed payments and the country’s deteriorating economy is weighing on the lives of citizens, who at times fail to make ends meet and live month-to-month on their incomes.
Editing by Nadia Riva