Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 July 2014, 14:54 GMT

2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Iran

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Iran, 11 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52cae545.html [accessed 24 July 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: 72,200,000
Capital: Tehran
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 182

Hundreds of workers were arrested for supporting the right to organise or participating in legitimate trade union activities or labour gatherings. At least two prominent trade union leaders remain in jail. A teacher is on death row. At least 11 new anti-union prison sentences were passed by the Revolutionary Courts, and four workers, including two women, were sentenced to flogging. Genuine trade unions are not recognised by the authorities.

Trade union rights in law

The right to organise severely restricted: Article 26 of the Constitution protects the right to freedom of association. Prior authorisation is required for organising and concluding collective agreements. The "official" workers' organisation, registered with the Ministry of Interior, is the Workers' House – an entity set up and backed by the authorities and employers.

Workplace representation: The 1990 Labour Code stipulates that an Islamic Labour Council (Shoraya Eslami) or a guild society can be established at any workplace, or alternatively a workers' representative can be appointed. However, the law strongly favours Islamic Labour Councils: no other form of representation is allowed in a workplace where such a council has been established. Islamic Labour Councils are overseen by the Workers' House, but their constitutions, operational rules and election procedures are drawn by the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Labour and the Islamic Information Organisation.

The link between the Councils and the Workers' House allowed the latter to monopolise the workplace representation. All other trade unions are therefore outlawed. The Labour Law provides a small window of opportunity for independent organising: workers can collect signatures for dismissing an Islamic Labour Council at their workplace, thereby opening the possibility of another form of worker representation and the establishment of another organisation. Such attempts have been met with repression, however.

New draft law: A draft law proposed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs would allow independent trade unions to be formed everywhere, subject to the registration by the Ministry of Labour. At the time of writing, the Parliament asked for the advisory opinion of the Assembly of Experts, a special body of Islamic scholars competent to interpret the Sharia law.

No right to strike: All work stoppages in public sector are prohibited. Other workers do not have the right to strike either, but they can put tools down so long as they remain at the workplace or operate a go-slow.

Unprotected workers: An estimated 700 000 workers are not covered by the labour law, since it only applies in full to workshops with ten or more workers. Those who are employed in workshops with less than five workers or in the export processing zones are exempted from all labour laws. If the Parliament adopts the draft legislation excluding temporary workers from the scope of labour law, up to 90% of workers will lose any legal protection.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: Abuses against civil society activists, such as torture, imprisonment and even use of the death penalty, were rife. The Iranian economy is heavily affected by the international sanctions and falling oil prices. Factory closures and unpaid wages are still common, and President Ahmadinejad's government uses the weak economy to justify its oppressive policies.

Activists targeted by security forces, face judicial harassment: 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. Reports of trade unionists' mistreatment by prison authorities are common.

Obstacles to organising include the presence of security and intelligence forces in workplaces, as well as abuse of probation periods and growing trend towards temporary contracts.

Teacher sentenced to death: On 26 November, Farzad Kamangar, a Kurdish teacher, human rights activist and a member of a trade union, who, had been sentenced to death for "endangering national security", was to be hanged. The jail security officers came to take Kamangar out of his cell taunting him and telling him that the execution was imminent.

Kamangar's death sentence was decided in a five-minutes long secret trial on 5 February by the Tehran Revolutionary Court. According to Kamangar's lawyer, the trial fell short of Iranian standards and nothing in the court file supported the charges. Nevertheless, on 11 July the Supreme Court confirmed the death penalty.

Trade unions and human rights groups worldwide campaigned for the case to be reviewed, the death sentence to be commuted and Kamangar to have contact with his family and his lawyer.

The teacher was finally not executed and is able to see his lawyer and family members in prison. However, he is allegedly being regularly tortured, suffers from severe pain and low blood pressure and denied medical attention.

The Committee to Stop Farzad Kamangar's death sentence harassed: Three teachers and two human rights activists were arrested and taken to the Intelligence Information Detention Centre while returning from the committee's first meeting on 24 July.

Repression against teachers: In 2007, teachers' protests led to harassment, detention and prison sentences against labour activists. More than 700 teachers who were identified during the protests have suffered pay cuts, while dozens have been suspended from work, dismissed and forced to retire. Security forces intimidated representatives of the Iranian Teachers' Trade Association (ITTA), an organisation which had initiated a procedure to seek membership to the Education International (EI). The Ministry of Interior adopted a decree suspending the activities of the ITTA.

On 2 January 2008, the Tehran Revolutionary Court condemned Mohammad Khaksari, of the Board of ITTA, to a one-year suspended prison sentence. Khaksari's charges included "participation in illegal gatherings" and "providing information to the country's enemies". His apartment was previously raided by security forces and all documentation related to the EI membership taken away. Alireza Hashemi, Secretary-General of the ITTA, was given a three-year prison sentence on 16 January in connection to 2006 demonstrations.

On 1 October, 22 teachers heading to a meeting to plan activities for the World Teachers' Day were intercepted by intelligence agents. Sixteen were released after 16 hours of illegal detention, while others, released later, have been beaten. Earlier, a similar meeting had to stop after participants has been threatened with arrests.

The police also dispersed ITTA meetings on 16 September (48 teachers arrested) and 31 December (12 arrested). The teachers were detained for approximately 16 hours.

Mansour Osanloo still in prison, denied appropriate medical treatment: Since July 2007, Osanloo, the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed) president, has been in prison to serve five years for "threatening national security "and "propaganda against the state". The trade union, created in 2005 and a member of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), has since then been constantly oppressed with members being arrested and beaten up (see previous Surveys). Despite repression by the authorities, the syndicate managed to mobilise citizens, NGOs and even some "traditional" workers' organisations to stand up for the workers and their leaders.

Osanloo has received massive workers' support and international human rights awards. He is recognised as a prisoner of conscious by Amnesty International. In June, the ILO Committee of Freedom of Association investigated Osanloo's case and confirmed that his prison sentence was a punishment for the trade union activities.

During the year, Osanloo has been repeatedly mistreated by prison authorities, which has lead to serious eye problems for him. Osanloo has been able to undergo three eye surgeries, but his doctors' recommendations for a necessary follow-up medical leave have been ignored.

On 21 January, the judge denied the doctors' request to release Osanloo for 45 days, unless his family pays an additional bail of one billion toman (over EUR 700 000 equivalent at the time). On 31 May, he was taken to his eye surgery in handcuffs, with four guards escorting him. On 2 November, Osanloo's feet were chained even for a medical check-up visit. He was later beaten up in prison and had his medical visits cancelled until further notice. At the time of writing, Osanloo's heath condition was deteriorating.

More bus workers receive prison sentences: Ebrahim Madadi, Osanloo's deputy, was also imprisoned in 2007. On 27 December, he was abruptly taken into custody by two plain-clothes policemen. Madadi's suspended three-and-a-half year jail sentence was enforced the next day. He remained in Evin prison at the time of writing.

On 7 October, four other members of Syndicate Sherkat-e Vahed received suspended prison sentences ranging from six to 14 months. Their charges, "acting against national security", include participating in a strike in 2005 and inviting the other bus drivers to go on strike by distributing relevant leaflets, participating in an "illegal" gathering and knowing about the "illegal" activities of Osanloo. Gholamreza Gholamhosseini spent nearly three months in Evin prison after participating in an event to mark Iran Women's Day (co-sponsored by the Syndicate). He was released on 16 September on bail of 100 million tomans.

No reinstatement for strikers: Forty-six Syndicate Sherkat-e Vahed activists lost their jobs after a massive strike and protests in 2006. Despite the ILO requests, they have not been reinstated. On 10 August, the Supreme Court of Employment rejected the appeals submitted by nine of those workers, but only two of them received verdicts. The dismissed strikers were reportedly prevented from working on private buses, and were harassed by the authorities so that they would leave Tehran.

Corporal punishment for May Day activities: The authorities tried to prevent the May Day celebrations. All independent events were banned, and the security forces shut down Chitgar Park near Tehran, where a trade union picnic was to take place. The Ministry of Intelligence reportedly admonished workers not to attend the official Workers' House ceremony at the Kheirol-amal Stadium in Tehran. In Kurdistan, the co-founder of the Free Union of Iranian Workers, Sheys Amani, was arrested on 23 April.

Nevertheless, independent rallies did take place, and numerous arrests were made in Tehran, Asalouyeh and in Kurdistan province. Two members of the Free Union of Workers in Iran in Asalouyeh were detained until 18 June. When the wife of a detainee went to the local Intelligence Ministry office to enquire about her husband, she was reportedly beaten up with riffle butts.

Four labour activists, two of them women, were sentenced to flogging on 12 August in Sanandaj. Sousan Razani and Shiva Keriabadi were sentenced to 70 and 15 lashes respectively. The women also received nine months and three years' suspended prison sentences. Abdulah Khani was sentenced to 40 lashes and 91 days' imprisonment, and Seyed Qaled Hussein to 50 lashes and six months in prison.

Sugar workers organise despite repressions: In January, the workers of Iran's only sugar refinery, the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Plantation and Industry Complex in the province of Khuzestan (see previous survey), collected 1,900 signatures to dismiss the Islamic Labour Council and to form an independent trade union organisation. Interventions by police, security forces and Revolutionary Guards followed.

On 5 May, the workers went on strike to protest unpaid wages. Wide-scale arrests were made, and five organisers were summoned to court for leading a strike. On 16 June, the strike and a mass demonstration ended with 2,000 workers meeting where the Founders' Board of the Syndicate of the Workers of Haft Tapeh Sugar Complex was established. On 22 October, despite harassment and intimidation by the management, over 1,000 workers cast their ballots to elect nine members of the union's executive board. Syndicate Haft Tapeh Complex is now affiliated to the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF).

Sugar workers' leaders put on trial: On 20 December, five members of the Syndicate Haft Tapeh executive board (Jalil Ahmadi, Feridoun Nikofard, Ali Nejati, Ghorban Alipour and Mohammed Heydari Mehr) were summoned to the Revolutionary Court and charged with "propaganda against the government". At the time of writing, they had been tried and were awaiting the verdict. While the hearings took place in a typically arbitrary manner with the prosecution not even bothering to show up or to provide evidence, the trade unionists and their lawyers managed to challenge the procedure and to launch a proper debate.

Mahmoud Salehi released, but faces new charges: On 6 April, Mahmoud Salehi, the co-founder of the Bakery Workers' Trade Union in Saqez, was finally released from the high-security prison in Sanandaj. On 23 March Salehi had been due to be released from his prison term for organising an independent workers' May Day rally in 2004. Just six days before that deadline Salehi was taken to the Justice Department and charged with issuing solidarity messages during his imprisonment, which would justify his continuous detention. However, he was able to leave the jail on 6 April on bail (equivalent of USD 43 000) and with a three-year suspended prison sentence.

Salehi's supporters persecuted: Several members of the Committee in Defence of Mahmoud Salehi were arrested both before and after his release. Khaled Hosseini was sentenced to 30 lashes and 91 days' imprisonment on 12 August.

Police violence at Kian Tyre factory: On 9 April, the workers at Kian Tyre factory near Chahandargeh went on strike because of the long-standing wage arrears. On 12 April, the police troops smashed factory gates and climbed walls to get at strikers. Some 100 workers were brutalised with electric batons and hauled off in police buses to incarceration. The workers' families had no information on their whereabouts for the first 36 hours. Most workers were eventually released, but only after police interrogated them to determine the strike's leaders. Six fire-fighters, who refused to use water cannons on the strikers, were also arrested.

More activists end up in prison: On 7 October, the workers at the Ishafaan bazaar were attacked by the State Security Forces as they marched to the governor's office in protest against the new value added tax law. The bazaar workers were taken to prison, held in solitary confinement and released later that day. On 22 December, plain-clothed security forces arrested Mohsen Hakimi, a member of the Iranian Writers' Association and the Co-ordinating Committee to Form Workers' Organisations. Bijan Amiri, an autoworker at Pars Khodro factory, was arrested around the same time on unknown charges. Hakimi and Amiri were both taken to Evin prison; Hakimi had been released by the time of writing.

Pro-union journalist detained: On 26 August, Ali Reza Saghafi, a journalist known for his incisive commentaries on trade union rights who is also the chairman of the Centre for Defending Workers' Rights, was told to report to judicial authorities in Tehran. He then disappeared. It was not until the next day that his family learned that Saghafi was being held in Evin prison on unknown charges. Just two months earlier, Saghafi attended the ILO's International Labour Conference, where he spoke about repression of trade unions. Saghafi was released from prison on 28 August.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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