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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Iran

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Iran, 9 June 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c4fec74c.html [accessed 15 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 74,200,000
Capital: Tehran
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 182

Hundreds of workers were arrested for supporting the right to organise and for participating in legitimate trade union activities. At least seven trade unionists remain in jail, including a teacher who was sentenced to death in 2008. Seven new prison sentences were issued and fair trial standards compromised, although in some cases unionists were able to appeal their cases successfully. Trade union rights are severely limited, and strikes are prohibited.

Trade union rights in law

While the Constitution protects freedom of association, genuine trade union rights are not guaranteed in law. The Labour Code stipulates that either an Islamic Labour Council or a guild society can be established at a workplace, however the law strongly favours the former. The Labour Councils are linked to the Workers' House, the "official" workers' organisation set up and backed up by the authorities and employers. No other form of representation is allowed where a council has been established, although workers are allowed to collect signatures for dismissing an Islamic Labour Council. Prior authorisation is required for organising, as well as for concluding collective agreements. Furthermore, the labour laws do not apply in workshops with less than five workers and in the export processing zones. Although strikes are not allowed, workers in the private sector can down tools as long as they remain at the workplace or operate a go-slow. All work stoppages in the public sector are prohibited.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: The highly-disputed presidential elections on 12 June, marred by allegations of violence against the opposition, blocking of communications and vote rigging, resulted in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being declared the winner once again. The rival candidates challenged the result, and their supporters took to the street. The wave of protests that has been dubbed "Green Revolution" or "Persian Awakening" was violently suppressed by police and paramilitary Basij groups. At least 36 people were killed and thousands arrested, among them civil rights activists, journalists, students and reformist politicians. Harassment, detention, torture, show trials and even killings of those suspected to have taken part in the protest were reported. Ahmadinejad was sworn in for a second term in August while abuses continued.

The economy was also a major issue in the contested elections. On 22 May, a government-sponsored bill on reducing subsidies was adopted, saving up to the equivalent of USD hundred billion on state support for gasoline, electricity, water, food, health and education. As the subsidy reform would hurt ordinary Iranians already struggling with skyrocketing consumer prices, all independent labour organisations were opposing the bill.

Right to organise heavily suppressed: The government relies on "security laws" to suppress any public expression of dissent. Many activists have been convicted of "propaganda against the state" and "jeopardising national security" by the Revolutionary Courts without any respect to international or Iranian fair trial standards. While the government-backed Workers' House or Islamic Councils consistently fail to address issues such as rights at work, privatisation, structural adjustments, low salaries and wage arrears, workers who try to organise independently are subjected to different forms of harassment, including violence, arrests, detention and potentially lengthy prison sentences, often in the notorious political detainees' Section 209 of Evin prison. Security and intelligence forces are often at workplaces to intimidate workers, and reports of trade unionists' mistreatment by prison authorities are common.

Teachers' associations banned: In 2007, teachers' protests led to harassment, detention and incarceration of labour activists: many suffered pay cuts, were dismissed and forced to retire. The Interior Ministry has since issued a ban on all teachers' associations. Even though the associations were never formally dissolved by court, intelligence officers insist that the associations were liquidated by the government and that the teachers should resign from them. Several teacher associations have been crushed by the intelligence service, but some, such as the associations in Tehran, Esfahan and Kermanshah, remain active. Union meetings are either dispersed or supervised by officers from the intelligence service.

Haft Tapeh Sugar Company Union – pressure intensifies: Union representatives of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Plantation and Industry complex trade union were persecuted because of their legitimate trade union activities, such as reclaiming wage arrears and defending basic rights at work. Five leaders, Jalil Ahmadi, Feridoun Nikoufard, Ghorban Alipour, Mohammed Heydari Mehr and union president Ali Nejati, received prison sentences, while union communications officer Reza Rakhshan is still waiting for his verdict.

As reported in the 2009 edition of the Survey, the Haft Tapeh trade union is one of very few genuine trade unions that appear to have the right to exist within the national legal framework. Nevertheless, the five leaders were charged with creating an illegal union. In an attempt to create a situation where the union would be unequivocally outlawed, the authorities ordered Islamic Labour Council elections at the company for 24 February. When the elections failed due to the low turn-out, new arrests and judicial persecutions followed.

On 28 February, security forces arrested Reza Rakhshan. His home was raided and his computers confiscated. Nejati, whose home was also searched on the same day, temporarily went into hiding but was arrested on 8 March and held for over a month in solitary confinement. He was granted only one brief visit from his wife, was interrogated on charges he had already testified on, and was then fired from his job and blacklisted. Earlier, on February 22, another member of the executive, Rahim Boshagh, was arrested. Ahmadi, Nikoufard, Alipour, Heydari Mehr were arrested on 2-3 March. They were once again charged with "acting against national security", but they were released on bail on 5-7 March. Nejati was not released until 14 April, following a hundreds-workers-strong strike a week earlier. He and Reza Rakhshan were charged with the same offence as the others.

The original five leaders (Nejati, Ahmadi, Alipour, Heydari Mehr, Nikoufard) were to be tried on two sets of charges: one in connection with a strike in 2007, and the other in connection with creating a union in 2008. Initially sentenced to a year in prison on 14 April, all but Nejati were cleared of all charges pertaining to 2008 on appeal on 25 September. However, all five were convicted in connection with the 2007 strike, and on 11 October, the court of Dezful sentenced most activists to six months' immediate imprisonment and six months sentences suspended over five years – during which time they are barred from all trade union activity.

All five were taken to prison during the first half of November. At the end of the year, four prisoners were released conditionally or on probation. Nejati, however, remains incarcerated. The employer prevented the unionists from entering the workplace immediately after the verdict was pronounced, and all five were officially dismissed on 1 December for "failure to report to work". Rakhshan, who had to answer to charges of "propaganda against the state", "relationship with anti-government persons" and "the establishment of the union" in August, is currently awaiting his verdict.

Osanloo and Madadi still in prison: Mansour Osanloo, the president of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed) trade union, and Ebrahim Madadi, the vice-president of the same union, are still in jail, serving prison sentences of five and three and a half years respectively for their defence of workers' rights. Osanloo has been incarcerated since July 2007 and is currently placed in the Reja'I Shahr prison, west of Tehran, among prisoners who have been convicted of crimes such as murder. His health is continuously deteriorating due to pre-existing medical problems as well as new ones gained through the way he was treated in prison. Despite the prison doctor's referral, Osanloo was denied a temporary leave to get necessary medical help. Osanloo also ultimately lost his job when the Tehran Revolutionary Court confirmed his dismissal on 21 October. Madadi has been in jail since December 2008. Both men have been maltreated while in custody and both are recognised as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

Kamangar still at risk of being executed: Farzad Kamangar, a Kurdish teacher, human rights activist and a trade union member who had been sentenced to death for "endangering national security" in a five-minute long secret trial in 2008, is still kept in the Evin prison and risks execution at any time. His lawyer alleges that Kamangar suffered torture and ill-treatment while in custody. In December, Kamangar's file was reported to be examined once again by the Supreme Court; however, later reports said that the authorities were threatening his imminent execution, along with other Kurdish activists.

Update on Hakimi and Amiri: Mohsen Hakimi, who was arrested in 2008 (see the 2009 edition of the Survey), was freed on 18 February. He had spent over 50 days in solitary confinement in Evin prison. Bijan Amiri, a worker at Pars Khodro factory, was also freed after 40 days in Evin prison.

More teachers' leaders in prison: Sajad Khaksari, son of two leaders of Teachers' Trade Association (TTA) and editor of the now-banned TTA publication "Pen", has faced persistent harassment and numerous detentions since 2006. He was most recently arrested on 26 April, during a teachers' gathering in front of the Parliament. On 6 June, Branch 22 of the Revolutionary Court acquitted Khaksari of all charges, and the Court of Appeal later commuted his earlier 6-months prison sentence.

However, on 22 June, following the uprisings in connection with the presidential elections, Khasari's lawyer was informed that the case file had to be re-examined by a different branch of the Revolutionary Court. The second trial took place without Khaksari's lawyer being present, and Khaksari was sentenced to one year in prison on the same charges. Two of the three charges were later overturned on appeal, and Khasari was freed on 24 October. It is understood that he is still facing trial.

Hashem Khastar, a retired teacher and a trade union activist, is also serving a two-year prison term for "acting against the security of the country". Jafar Ebrahimi-Azandaryani, a human rights activist and a member of the teacher association who was arrested on 10 June for trying to organise a union meeting, was released on bail in December. Both activists reportedly suffered from very serious health conditions, and both were denied appropriate medical treatment.

May Day repressions: For several years, the Survey has reported a ban on independent celebrations of the International Workers' Day on 1 May, and ruthless crackdowns of such events. 2009 was no exception.

A number of Iranian workers' organisations had established a 2009 May Day Organising Committee and planned a peaceful rally in Laleh Part, in Tehran. In the days prior to the event, security forces issued court summons, made threatening phone calls and placed workers and labour activists under surveillance. Hours before the start of the celebrations in Laleh Park, hundreds of uniformed police officers as well as plainclothes intelligence officials appeared on the spot. They positioned themselves inside the park and closed all its entrances. Nevertheless, over 2,000 workers reportedly showed up for the event, scheduled for 5 pm.

The police attacked at 5.30 pm: a large number of participants were cornered, beaten to the ground with batons, tear-gassed, punched, kicked and verbally abused. The police also broke cameras and cell phones of anyone trying to document what was happening. There were reports of severe injuries, and an estimated 150 to 200 people were arrested (including other activists such as women's rights defenders, students, and even some inadvertent bypassers) and most of them taken to Evin prison. About 100 activists remained in custody for days or weeks, and the authorities said they would not be released until after the presidential elections. A few more people were arrested later in connection with protests over the continuous detention of their family members. However, almost everybody had been released by the first half of June.

Ali Reza Saghafi, a journalist known for his incisive commentaries on trade union rights and chairman of the Centre for Defending Workers' Rights, was also arrested along with his son Mohsen. They were released on bail from Evin prison after one month, but were to report to the Revolutionary Court for hearings in November. Saghafi had also been arrested for one day in 2008, and was re-arrested at the end of the year.

The last remaining May Day detainee, Mehdi Farahi Shandiz, remains in Evin prison, sentenced to eight months for "offending the supreme leader". He is currently awaiting multiple trials for charges in connection with his participation in May Day and his gathering of signatures to free Mansour Osanloo.

In a separate event, a meeting of the Consumer Cooperative of the Metal Workers and Mechanics Union in Nematabad, south Tehran, was dispersed and many people were arrested. Some people were released immediately, but eight trade unionists were held in custody for over a month, their bails set to exorbitant amounts of 20-100 million toman (the equivalent of EUR 14-70 thousand). All eight were released on bail by mid-June.

Arrests in Tehran on National Teachers' Day: Shortly after the May Day crackdown on Iranian workers' rallies, teachers organised gatherings to celebrate National Teachers' Day on 4 May. The teacher association TTA invited its members to gather in front of the Education Ministry in Tehran and in front of the Education Department offices in the provinces. In Tehran, over 100 teachers showed up for the meeting. Police officers in plain clothes and in uniform patrolled the area before the gathering, attempting to compel the teachers to leave. When the teachers resisted, the police assaulted and beat them.

The teachers also resisted the police's attempts to make arrests, but eventually the police managed to arrest Rasoul Bodaghi and Khatound Badpar, members of the TTA in Tehran, as well as Ali Alami from Islamshahr. They were detained for 26 hours in the police station. Bodaghi had been sentenced to a two-year suspended prison term after his participation in teachers' protests in 2007, and the new detention made the authorities decide that his prison sentence had to be enforced. Bodaghi remained in the Evin prison at the end of the year, but his case file has been submitted to the public prosecutor.

Charged with celebrating World Teachers' Day: On 6 October, the World Teacher's day, plain clothes policemen burst into the house of Aliakbar Baghani, general secretary of the Tehran Teachers Association, to break up a union meeting. All eleven teachers present were taken away, and the place and the reason for their arrest were not made known immediately. Baghani was interrogated for 11 hours and charged with "holding an unauthorised meeting" and "celebrating World Teachers' Day". Nine teachers were released the next day, while Mehdi Bohlouli was not released until 8 October and Mohammadreza Rezaie-Garakani until 21 October.

Strikers attacked by police: Workers in the pipe production company in Ahwaz, who did not have their wages paid for ten months, staged a strike on 22 October. On the fourth day of the strike they were violently attacked by police, who had been silently observing the workers on the three previous days. The police ordered the workers to disperse, and when they refused to comply and demanded to see the officials in charge, they were attacked, beaten and arrested. Reportedly, many were injured and more than fifty were arrested. No information on workers being released or kept in custody was available by the end of the year.

Trade union lawyer interrogated: Mohammad Olyaeifard, the lawyer who represented the Haft Tapeh trade union, was summoned to court on charges of "propaganda against the state", "slandering the judiciary" and "publication of lies and agitating public opinion" on 18 November. Shortly before receiving the summon, Olyaeifard had written to the ITUC and IUF asking for international solidarity. There were reports of other persecutions against Olyaeifard, allegedly connected to him representing other civil activists.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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