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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Iraq

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Iraq, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca89a.html [accessed 20 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: 29,000,000
Capital: Baghdad
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The draft Labour Code has been presented but still has serious short-comings, such as weak protection against anti-union discrimination and a very broad definition of public sector workers who are not allowed to join unions or bargain collectively. One trade union leader was tortured to death, union offices were raided and trade unionists arrested, plus many other acts of anti-union violence.

Trade union rights in law

New draft Labour Code: The draft Labour Code prepared with the assistance of the ILO was made public in 2007. It recognises all trade unions with exceptions (see below), offers some protection against discrimination against trade unionists, and allows for collective bargaining. However, there are shortcomings which the ILO has asked to be rectified:

  • Remove the prohibition against companies in the oil sector cooperating with trade unions;

  • Give stronger protection against anti-union discrimination;

  • Remove the stipulation that at least 50% of workers at a single workplace must agree for the union to represent it, before it is legal;

  • Clarify whether the Labour Code will include Law 150 of 1987, which prohibits public sector workers organising or going on strike (see below).

In August, after pressure from the Public Services International, the government said that it would consider repealing laws that ban public service unions.

Former laws still in force: The transition draft administrative law includes freedom of association and the right to strike, but until a new Labour Code is adopted, the employment laws dating back to the era of Saddam Hussein remain in force. There are therefore many remaining barriers to trade union rights, such as the ban on public sector workers organising or going on strike (Law 150 of 1987). Law 150 also changed the status of employees in state-owned enterprises to civil servants, thus depriving them of the right to organise.

Trade union funds fully controlled by the authorities: In August 2005, the Council of Ministers adopted Decree 8750. Based on that decree, competence for trade union and social rights is held by a new committee composed of government ministers. Decree 8750 gives the government complete control of existing trade union funds, which contradicts freedom of association principles.

Migrant workers: Tens of thousands of workers from South Asia, Africa and elsewhere are employed in US military camps where they are living in substandard conditions, which at times amount to forced labour. Many have to pay illegal recruitment fees and have their passports confiscated on arrival. To remedy this the US Agility Defence and Government Services passed the April 2006 Contracting Order, which it says will ensure that US companies operating in Iraq do not exploit migrant workers.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: Brutal sectarian violence continued as the country descended into chaos. Thousands of workers have died in the attacks that take place every day. The US lead invasion in 2003 effectively destroyed the country's economic base, as many state-run enterprises were closed. After four years of rampant unemployment and underemployment, the US has announced that it will restart 200 major factories.

Despite the sectarian violence and distrust of unions by the authorities, a number of strikes and sit-ins took place during the year without interference.

Most workers banned from union membership: Given the predominance of the public sector in Iraq, many workers are deprived of the right to organise. Sectors like banking, insurance, oil and others are overwhelmingly state-owned. Even industrial factories producing batteries or cement are very often state-owned.

Only one national centre officially recognised: The only officially recognised trade union is the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW). It represents progress in the sense that it was created, in September 2005, as a result of a merger between three unions, the Iraqi Federation of Workers' Trade Unions (IFTU), previously the only one to have official recognition, the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) and the General Federation of Iraqi Trade Unions (GFITU). However, the fact that only one national trade union confederation has been granted official recognition limits freedom of association. Organisations such as the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI) have been refused recognition.

Some employers also refused to recognise trade unions because they were not formally registered, which was simply due to the lack of registration offices.

Threats against workers trying to start a strike: Some employers have referred to provisions in former laws to threaten any worker attempting to take strike action in a state-owned company.

Iraqi army surrounds oil pipeline workers: On 5 June, the army surrounded oil pipeline workers from the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU), part of the General Union of Oil Workers and Technicians, who had cut the flow of oil from two pipelines in Basra during a strike.

The strike began on 4 June following weeks of fruitless discussions between the union and management over wages, health and safety, the use of temporary workers and the future of the country's oil industry. As the final straw the general manager of the pipeline company had held back payments owed to the workers.

The strike was called off after the army surrounded and intimidated the strikers on 5 June. In July the Oil Ministry issued an order forbidding the country's oil companies from dealing with the union, stating that unions are illegal inside the government-owned oil sector.

In August, Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein Sharistani issued a formal Directive ordering the country's oil companies not to deal with trade unions and to exclude trade unionists from work committees. This is a repeat of the Coalition Provisional Authority's Decree 8750, issued in 2003, to prevent public-sector oil workers from forming trade unions, and a replay of Saddam Hussein's Decree 150, which banned all public-sector unions.

Trade unionists in danger: In the current unstable situation in the country, trade unionists are targeted by Iraqi militias, terrorist groups and by the Iraqi government itself. At times it is difficult to distinguish between whether assassinations occurred because of trade union activity or because of factional violence.

On 25 October, Hassan Hamza, president of the Hotel and Tourism Employees Union, part of the FWCUI, was brutally murdered. He had been receiving death threats from Islamic Sunni extremists in the Baghdad suburb of Hor Rajab because of the secular and progressive work he had been doing in his community.

On 16 January Mohammed Hameed, of the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI), was among a group of civilians who were randomly gunned down and murdered.

In April, Moaaid Hamid, vice president of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW) and his wife were killed in crossfire during a clash between the Iraqi army and terrorist elements in the province of Nineveh.

Killings in Iraq's oil industry: Eight engineers from the Iraqi Oil Ministry were kidnapped by militia on 11 January as they were travelling to a FWCUI press conference. Four were subsequently released, one was found dead after torture and three are still missing. This seems to have been an "identity card murder", as the men were of a different Muslim confession, as shown by their identity cards.

GFIW leaders attacked and buildings bombed and raided: Khalil Ibrahim Al-Mashhadani, vice president of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW) and general secretary of the Arab Federation of Building and Woodworkers, was injured in a bomb attack on 31 January.

Shortly afterwards, Dr Adnan al-Abed, legal counsellor to the GFIW and professor of law at Al-Hahrain University, and two colleagues were kidnapped by armed militants at the University, and their bodies were found three days later.

The same week a car bomb damaged the building housing the GFIW offices in Nineveh, injuring many workers and trade unionists.

On 23 February troops surrounded and entered the GFIW offices in Central Baghdad "for inspection". They then arrested the guard and damaged doors and broke windows. Two days later – on 25 February – troops returned and confiscated a GFIW computer and fax machine.

Trade Union leader arrested: Sheis Amani, head of the Founding Board of the Union of Unemployed and Dismissed Workers was arrested by military forces on 14 February when he was leading a strike by Kurdistan textile workers in front of the Kurdistan Labour Department to protest at working conditions.

The army demanded that the workers disband, but they refused. Sheis Amani was released an hour later.

Health Workers Union general secretary arrested: Chafic Mohsen Daoud Anizi, general secretary of the Arab Union of Health Workers was arrested and the union's archives confiscated on 24 March. He was subsequently released.

Mechanical Workers Union general secretary abducted, tortured and murdered: Najim Abd-Jasem, general secretary of the Mechanical Workers Union and a leader in the GFIW, was abducted in Baghdad on 27 March. His body was found three days later, with clear signs of torture. He had led the Mechanical Workers Union since 2003 and founded the Iraq Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), one of the unions which had merged to create the GFIW.

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