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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Iran

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Iran, 6 June 2012, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
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: 73,900,000
Capital: Tehran

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Arrests: 171
Imprisonments: 20

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


Scores of arrests and detentions took place throughout the year. Many workers were arrested for supporting the right to organise. Torture is routinely used to extract confessions, and political prisoners are systematically denied medical care. In June, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association upheld an ITUC/ITF complaint over the illegal repression of the bus drivers trade union headed by Mansour Osanloo who was finally released. Trade union rights are severely limited, and strikes are prohibited. Reports suggest over 70% of Iranian workers are employed on temporary contracts, with no job security.


Limited protests supporting the events in Egypt and Tunisia occurred in the spring of 2011 but were violently repressed. Discontent among ordinary Iranians grew over low economic growth and increasing unemployment – one estimate placed unemployment at 24%. The situation of women in general and women workers in particular is reportedly deteriorating. In July, 500 women's movement activists and supporters issued a statement demanding an end to escalating violence and discrimination against women. Women workers have legally prescribed shorter working hours and a ban on overtime which has led to a further reduction in employment for women. In November, around 3,000 workers demonstrated against a draft of the new labour law.

Protest movement: On 27 January, the opposition Green Movement which emerged in the protests following contested elections in 2009 announced a series of protests for early February. Despite widespread surveillance of organisers a demonstration on 14 February – the 'day of rage' – went ahead in Tehran and was violently dispersed. At least two protestors died. Similar marches were held in other Iranian cities. Protests continued sporadically through March and April despite arrests, detentions and interrogations. On the eve of International Women's Day on 8 March some 33 women's rights activists were arrested. All were later released. In April, protests took place in several cities calling for more rights and benefits. They were dispersed by force with a reported 15 people killed and dozens wounded. Some estimated that over 150 had been arrested.

Within the first 10 days of 2011 alone, the regime executed nearly 60 people on various charges. Political activists received heavy prison sentences, and three political activists were executed.

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.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

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 for 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. Security and intelligence forces are often present at workplaces to intimidate workers, and reports of trade unionists' mistreatment by prison authorities are common.

Independent teachers' unions fight uphill battle: Since 1999, separate independent teacher associations have been formed, and in 2001 the Coordinating Council of Iranian Teacher Trade Associations (CCITTA) was founded. In 2007, teachers' protests led to the harassment, detention and incarceration of labour activists, and 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 have never been formally dissolved by court, intelligence officers insist that the associations have been 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. Often, union meetings are either dispersed or supervised by officers from the intelligence service. Discrimination against unionised students has also been reported.

Threats against and detention of journalists: In February, the Association of Iranian Journalists (AoIJ) stated that at least 34 journalists remain in prison, including two women Nazanin Khosravani and Hengameh Shahidi. In January reports emerged of the arrest of Dr. Fariborz Raisdana, a labour activist and a member of the Iranian writers' association and the Centre of Defenders of Workers' Rights. In February, security forces arrested two journalists, working for Shargh, the only remaining reformist newspaper. Also in February, the former head of the Iranian news agency was arrested while four more journalists were detained for questioning. In March, Kaveh Ghassemi Kermanshahi, Iranian journalist member of the Central Council of the Human Rights Organisation of Kurdistan, also signatory to the "One Million Signatures Campaign", was sentenced to four years in prison for allegedly "acting against national security" and "propaganda" while Abdolreza Tajik, journalist and human rights activist, was sentenced to six years in prison, for "membership in an illegal group"; and one year for "propaganda" and "publishing false reports". Partly in response to their coverage of the demonstrations, Jay Deshmukh, the AFP deputy bureau chief in Tehran, was expelled from Iran in April and stripped of his press card along with ten other correspondents. In December, the Committee to Protect Journalists published a worldwide prison census for journalists, declaring the Islamic Republic of Iran as the world's worst jailer, with 42 journalists behind bars. However other estimates give figures of around 100 journalists imprisoned since 2009.

Huge police presence overshadows International Labour Day meeting:

On the eve of International Labour Day, seven major labour organisations in Iran issued a joint statement* demanding pay rises, an end to repression and cronyism, and the right to strike and form independent labour organisations. Over 200 workers in the city of Sanandaj attempted to organise a Labour Day meeting but they were faced with a huge police presence.

* The joint statement was signed by the following labour organisations: Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company Workers' Trade Union, Free Trade Union of Iranian Workers, Re-launching Committee of the Trade Union of Painters and Decorators, Re-launching Committee of the Trade Union of Metal and Mechanical Workers, The Center for Defenders of Workers' Rights in Iran, Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Company Workers' Trade Union, Pursuit Committee for the Formation of Labour Organisations and Co-ordination Committee for the Formation of Labour Organisations.


Unionists and labour activists imprisoned:

In 2011, as in previous years the authorities detained, questioned, harassed, threatened and imprisoned scores of people for their labour rights activities. Activists were often released only upon payment of extremely high bail bonds. For example, on 8 January, Pedram Nasrollahi, a labour movement and women's movement activist, was released on payment of 40 million tomans (29,300 Euros) bail. In early January, according to reports published by the Free Union of Workers in Iran, jailed labour activist Behnam (Asad) Ebrahimzadeh was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Behnam is a member of the workers' group Pursuit Committee for the Formation of Labour Organisations. Behnam worked at a polyethylene pipe-manufacturing plant in the outskirts of Tehran. He had already spent nearly seven months in prison since his arrest in June 2010. He had been previously detained along with scores of other worker activists, at a rally on Labour Day 2009.

In August a Tabriz court sentenced labour activists Shahrokh Zamani to 11 years, Nima Pouryaghob to 6 years, Mohammad Jarahi to 5 years and Sasan Vahebivash to 6 months in prison on charges of organising opposition groups, acting against national security and propaganda against the regime. Shahrokh Zamani is a member of the Representatives' Council in the Coordinating Committee to Create Labour Organisations and also a member of the Painters Union. All were later released on payment of bail.

Seyed Biouk Seyyed Lar, a worker at Saba Train, and well-known labour activist, was also arrested in June 2011 and was detained in Tabriz prison. Mr. Ali Akhavan, an associate of The Centre in Defence of Workers' Rights, was also arrested at his house in May and sentenced to a year and a half in prison. In December, police arrested a textile worker who threw his shoes at President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he was giving a speech to workers during a visit to the provincial capital of Sari.

Tehran Bus Drivers Union leaders remain imprisoned:

Mansoor Osanloo, the head of the Vahed Syndicate (Tehran Bus Drivers Union) was finally released in June on payment of a bond and dependant on 'good behaviour'. He had been in poor health and had previously been tortured while in prison on an earlier sentence. In 2007,Mansour Osanloo was sentenced to five years imprisonment on charges of 'acting against national security' and 'propaganda against the state' and in 2010 another year was added to his sentence. He had been trying to establish a democratic trade union for bus drivers. Other members of the Tehran's bus workers' union currently in detention include Ebrahim Madadi, Reza Shahabi and Gholamreza Gholamhosseini. Reza Shahabi was taken to hospital on 26 November during a hunger strike. He had began the hunger strike after authorities turned down his request for bail a second time and increased the cash sum they demanded for his release. After a few days out of prison he was again sent to Evin Prison, where he began a second hunger strike in protest. On 22 December, Reza Shahabi ended his 30-day hunger strike. On 30 November, Ebrahim Madadi, Vice-President of the Tehran Bus Drivers Union, was released from prison on bail after being imprisoned since December 2008. However, he was re-detained on 7 December. He had been sentenced to three and a half-year imprisonment in December 2008 on charges of "endangering national security". At the end of the year he remained detained in Evin prison. In October authorities issued court summons to Seyed Davood Razavi, a former treasurer of the Tehran bus drivers' union, and to his fellow Vahed executive board member, Yaghoub Salimi.

However two activists from the bus workers' union were released from detention. Morteza Komsari and Aliakbar Nazariis of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company were released at the end of December.

Sugar union leaders remain in prison: On 1 December 2010, Reza Rakhshan, executive board president of an independent union at the giant cane growing and processing Haft Tapeh complex, in the southern city of Shush, was sentenced to six months in prison. The charge was "spreading lies" – in an article Rakhshan dedicated to the union's second anniversary. Rakhshan, previously the union's communications officer who had been arrested on 4 January, released on bail and then dismissed from his job, was the second union president to be thrown into jail, following the imprisonment of Ali Nejati in 2009. On 12 November 2011, Ali Nejati was transferred to Dezful's Fajr prison despite ill health. Previously in 2010 three other Haft Tapeh union members were convicted and sentenced to six months although it is not clear if they have begun serving their sentence. 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.

Teachers Union under attack:

Rasoul Bodaghi, a member of Iran Teachers' Trade Associations (ITTAs), is currently serving a six year sentence in Raja'i Shahr Prison, in Karaj, near Tehran. He had been sentenced in August 2010 on charges of "propaganda against the system" and "gathering and colluding with intent to disturb national security". Following a hunger strike by several political prisoners in protest at conditions inside the prison in May 2011, Rasoul Bodaghi was transferred to solitary confinement. In April 2011, three members of Hamadan's teacher's union in north-west Iran, Ali Najafi, Mohammad Khani and Saeed Jahanara, were summoned to court, possibly to face charges of "propaganda against the system".

Hashem Khastar former head of the Mashad Teachers' Union, and a former teacher at the Agriculture Technical High School, was due to be released on 26 July. Instead he was taken to court and tried on the new charge of "creating public anxiety". He had been arrested in September 2009 and sentenced to six years in prison on charges relating to his trade union activities. An appeals court later reduced his sentence to two years.

Persecution of members of the Coordinating Committee to Help form Workers' Organisations: Throughout the year, members of the Coordinating Committee to Help form Workers' Organisations (CCHWO) were targeted for arrest. On 30 April and 1 May, several labour activists and members of the CCHWO in Sanandaj and Saghez cities were arrested and held for several weeks. They were later released on high bail terms. Activists were pressurised to leave the committee. Mohammad Jarahi, previously a worker at a petrochemical complex in Asalooye was arrested on 20 June. He had previously been arrested in 2007 and sentenced to four months imprisonment, but released early as a result of a protest campaign launched by labour activists in Tabriz. Ayat Niafar, another member of the CCHWO was arrested on 17 October and released on bail. Previously annulled prison sentences from 2007 were reactivated for Sheis Amani, and Sedigh Karimi, – both members of the Board of Directors of the Iranian Workers' Free Trade Union. In August, Kourosh Bakhshandeh, a member of CCHWO, was sentenced in absentia to a one year suspended sentence and released on bail.

Workers take strike action over missing wages and contract work: Despite harsh repercussions strikes occurred throughout the year. In January 3,500 workers went on strike at Barez /Alborz Tire Company shutting down operations for four days. In February and early March, hundreds of Alborz workers and their families again protested over unpaid wages. In March workers were told the plant would close until enough money was found for it to reopen. On 24 January workers at the Pars Metal Company organised a sit-in over unpaid and late wages – they had staged a similar protest in 2010. In March some 1,800 workers from the Tabriz petrochemical plant protested against the management's decision not to renew their contracts and called for better conditions. Meanwhile, a number of workers at the Esfahan Steel Company demonstrated in Tehran on 24 April to protest the non-payment of their back wages while some 100 workers and their families gathered outside the Fars Organisation of Industries and Mines in Shiraz seeking payment of missing wages. Contract labour was also a growing concern with 1,500 workers at the Imam Port Petrochemical Complex staging protests calling for direct employment contracts rather than sub-contracts in April. Around 1,500 workers from the Pars Paper Mill in south-western Iran went on strike on 9 April over the dismissal of 60 temporary contract workers. Despite these protests the deputy Labour Minister Mojtaba Zarei reportedly denied that any industrial workers have protested or gone on strike in the past year.

Teachers arrested and harassed: In March, around 1,000 teachers were arrested in Tehran during their third demonstration calling for increased wages and the resignation of the Education Minister. Many were later released but some 150 remained in custody for varying periods. The majority of teachers in Iran live way below the poverty line and many hold several jobs. On International teacher's Day, 2 May, a number of jailed Iranian teachers issued a statement calling for an end to the persecution of teachers for their union activities. Those signing included Advar Tahkim Vahdat spokesman Abdollah Momeni and Mohammad Davari, a member of the central council of the Teachers' Organisation of Iran who were arrested during the crackdown after the June 2009 presidential election and are currently serving five-year sentences on security charges. Persecution continued of the Bahá'í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) with seven reported arrests and prison sentences.

Petrochemical workers threatened during strike: Despite management threats, 6,500 workers at the government-owned Mahshahr Bandar Imam Petrochemical complex, in the South-West of Iran, took strike action on 28 September, demanding an end to management's use of subcontracting firms at the plant. Workers are not directly employed and are thus barred from attempting to bargain collectively with management and are employed on temporary contracts. Earlier in March, workers had conducted an 11-day strike for similar demands. That strike was suspended after a government promise to respond to workers' demands within three months. The Free Union of Iranian Workers reported that on the seventh day of the strike, three oil workers were summoned to the security office and immediately arrested. These were Mansour Abbasi, a worker with the Khawrazmi subcontracting company and a workers' representative; Mohammad Bagher Bagheri, a worker at the Fars Industries contracting company and a workers' representative; and Jasem Bandarani, another worker at the Khawrazmi subcontracting company. The arrests followed several protest rallies near the main offices of the petrochemical complex which included marches and chants. The three arrested workers have since been released on bail.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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