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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Iraq

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 - Iraq, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 13 December 2017]
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: 30,700,000
Capital: Baghdad
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

In 2009, as in previous years, the Iraqi authorities directly interfered in the affairs of trade unions and attempted to repress and punish union activity. There was a wave of strikes and protests during the year, and in November Majeed Sahib Kareem, internal relations secretary of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW), was murdered by a car bomb. The government tried to take control of the teachers union while several oil workers and unionists were detained and questioned. The current legal framework is not conducive to trade union activities, and public sector workers have no trade union rights.

Trade union rights in law

The current labour laws governing trade union rights are in dire need of reform. A draft Labour Code was made public in 2007, and although it would recognise trade unions, it contains many areas of concern: it would prohibit companies in the oil sector from cooperating with unions, would not adequately protect workers against anti-union discrimination, and would establish too high thresholds for union recognition. Until the Labour Code is adopted, labour laws dating back to the era of Saddam Hussein remain in force. Resolution 150 of 1987 bans all public sector workers from organising, and has changed the status of employees in state-owned enterprises to civil servants, thus depriving them of the right to organise. It also bars all public sector workers from going on strike. Furthermore, Decree 8750, which was introduced by the new regime in August 2005, severely limits trade union activities by prohibiting unions from holding funds, collecting dues and maintaining assets.

The draft Labour Code would allow for collective bargaining.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: In June, US troops withdrew from Iraq's towns. Stability had been increasing for the past 12 – 24 months until several car bombs were set off in Baghdad killing hundreds in some of Iraq's deadliest attacks since 2007. One leading Iraqi television journalist faced an attempted assassination, which revealed again the failure of the Iraqi government to challenge impunity in the killing of journalists.

Only one national centre officially recognised: The only officially recognised trade union is the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW), created in September 2005 from the merger of the Iraqi Federation of Workers' Trade Unions (IFTU) (previously the only one to be officially recognised), the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) and the General Federation of Iraqi Trade Unions (GFITU). However, this limits freedom of association, as organisations such as the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI) have been refused recognition.

Restricted elections: In March, trade union elections were to be held under the legal framework inherited from the regime of Saddam Hussein. "Law 52" prohibits workers in the public sector from forming or joining unions, and only six mainly private sector unions, all affiliated to the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), were allowed to participate. Other affiliates of the IFTU and those affiliated to other national trade union centres were excluded, as well as the three Northern Kurdish provinces. In addition, the controversial August 2005 Order 8750 freezes all trade union assets and financial accounts. The application of this order would only be re-assessed and possibly suspended after union elections are held, and only for those unions allowed to take part in the officially-recognised elections.

Most workers banned from union membership: Many workers are deprived of the right to organise due to the predominance of the public sector in Iraq, and the fact that public sector workers are barred from trade unions. Sectors like banking, insurance, oil and others are overwhelmingly state-owned. Even industrial factories are very often state-owned.

Oil workers victimised over protest – leaders questioned: On 28 January, nearly 400 workers and employees of the Public Company for Petrochemical Industries held a peaceful demonstration to demand three months back pay and mandated allowances. The company director general reportedly asked for time to review the demands, but instead the protestors were surrounded by military and informed that the company refused to negotiate with them and that instead they should meet with the military.

The negotiators' interview with the leader of the military operations was videotaped, but union leaders were promised that their demands would be met and the following day the sums owed to the workers were dispensed. However, the company then issued a letter to the Ministry of Industry and Minerals insisting on the punishment of nearly 40 workers considered instigators of the demonstration. On 2 February, four union leaders were interrogated. One union leader, Kareem Johi Sahan, was banished from the enterprise for six months and his pay grade was lowered. In May 2009, the company's new state manager harassed and then filed police charges against Mohammed Zaki Ibrahim, the leader of the Petrochemical Workers' Union of Basra. Zaki was charged by police with "illegal" trade union activity and labelled as a danger to the Iraqi national economy. The Minister of Oil, Hussien Al Shahristani, issued a memo on August 23 transferring four union leaders at the drilling company Southern Oil Company in retaliation for their union activities.

FWCUI agricultural union leader arrested: On 25 February, armed forces attacked the house and arrested Himyar Salih Iqaal, the leader of the FWCUI agricultural union. According to the family, the perpetrators drove up in three army vehicles, looking like those of the "emergency forces" called Al Tawari'e, and no explanation was given for the intrusion. Prior to this, Himyar had been appointed head of the agricultural workers' union after redistributing workers' land which had been seized by semi-feudal militias who had used their authority to confiscate vast parts of land in the southern region of Iraq. The union believes that this "arrest" was retaliation by these militias.

After three months of illegal arrest, Himyar Salih was released on 5 May, after the false accusation of him being a "terrorist" was dropped due to lack of evidence.

Government intervention in union elections: The Iraqi Teachers Union (ITU) reported that the government has appointed an official body with the authority to take over the union, its records and property. The Iraqi government also listed people to be included on the union's board, ignoring the recent union elections. Despite trade unions' protests, the government stated that the union should again hold elections but that the leadership was not allowed to stand. The ITU had already held two national conferences since 2003 with a third emergency conference in late 2007 to elect a new president, Jasim Al lami. The interference of the government into the internal affairs of the ITU has led to the union refusing to comply with the new elections unless the leadership is elected in an open national conference organised by the ITU. The ITU held a national protest in central Baghdad on 21 March, but the protest was interfered with by the Iraqi security forces. A second major protest occurred on 28 March with some 500 supporters.

Leading female unionist transferred after strike: The management of the General Company for Leather Industries (GCLI) reportedly transferred a leading union activist, Sawsan Mahmoud, to another company. The transfer follows her leadership of an April protest against the company's failure to make outstanding payments due to workers. The company's management, in cooperation with the Ministry of Industry and Minerals, transferred the trade union activist to Elez Company, a subsidiary of the Ministry. Sawsan reportedly appealed to the Minister, who asked the reasons for the transfer. The company explained it was due to her participation in the protest and incitement of workers to go on strike. The company was also undertaking the transfer of another six workers for the same reasons.

Unionist transferred and threatened: On 16 April, Naji Zyara Nasir, an employee and union activist at the Southern Gas Company in Basra, was subjected to insults and a physical attack by security guards. Three days later he received a memo, signed by the Deputy Minister of Oil (MOL), transferring him to the Al Dora refinery in Baghdad, where he will be at risk of assassination and other physical dangers. According to the Iraqi federation of Oil Unions (IFOU), there is an increasing trend for oil companies to target and threaten union activists with transferral to unsafe areas or those with different tribal affiliations. The IFOU is currently investigating a similar case at the Southern Gas Company for investment by SHELL.

Unionists transferred after leading demonstrations: The General Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (GFWCUI) issued a statement on 31 October reporting that two workers in the Ministry of Industry (Salim Kadhim and Hatem Mindeel) were transferred from their company (al Zawraa company in Zafaranyya / Baghdad) to a car company south of Baghdad. This was believed to be done in retaliation for their leading worker demonstrations and demanding workers' rights from the management of the company in which they were elected board members.

Peaceful marchers shot by armed forces: On 6 October, a workers' demonstration of some 2,000 workers in Baghdad was fired upon by armed forces. Many protestors were hit with rubber bullets while four workers were severely beaten and arrested: Thamir Hameed and Muhammad Khangar from a battery manufacturing industry; Muhammad Khamees from an electrical facility; and Munadhil Attia from the leather manufacturing industry. The marchers had requested and received a permit for the demonstration, which was a protest over pay, safety benefits, and workers dismissed from jobs for political reasons under the Saddam regime.

Successful strike – supporters stopped from joining: In November, after some six weeks on strike, leather workers managed to get the authorities to agree to pay all safety benefits and worker back pay. The strike was one of the longest in the history of the Iraqi workers' movement. The Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq had called for the expansion of the strike into the entire industrial sector. There were reports that some workers in the cotton industry in Baghdad wanted to support the strike but were stopped by their management. As well, workers from a light bulb company and a battery producer were calling for a strike in solidarity just as the administration agreed to the worker's demands.

Murder of leading unionist: On 26 November, Majeed Sahib Kareem, the internal relations secretary of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW), was murdered. The GFIW reports that Majeed, who was a leading force for the organisation of workers in the public sector, was killed by a bomb which had been attached to his car. The murder came a few weeks after an explosion on 1 November which badly injured the unionist Maysoon Saheb. Both her legs were later amputated. Maysoon had worked for many years in Karbala in the agricultural unions.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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