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2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Iraq

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2007
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Iraq, 9 June 2007, available at: [accessed 14 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: 26,500,000
Capital: Baghdad
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

In addition to the many trade unionists who fell victim to untargeted violence, at least two trade union leaders were assassinated on account of their union activities and there were countless other violations of trade union rights. The authorities increased their interference. After taking control of trade union finances they decided to supervise all aspects of the trade union elections. No progress was made in introducing the new draft labour code. Old laws are still in force as a result, denying public sector workers the right to organise.

Trade union rights in law

New draft Labour Code: The draft labour code prepared with the assistance of the ILO had not even been discussed, or made public, by the end of 2006. The transitional draft administrative law included freedom of association and the right to strike.

Former laws still in force: 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 (under Law 150 of 1987). Law 150 also changed the status of employees in state-owned enterprises to civil servants, depriving public sector workers 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 states that the committee "must control all the funds belonging to trade unions and not allow them to distribute those funds". Thus, the decree gives the government complete control of existing trade union funds, which contradicts freedom of association principles.

In addition to that, Decree 8750 refers to government plans to produce a new text on how trade unions "should operate, act and organise themselves".

Trade union rights in practice

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 as they were not formally registered, 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.

Trade unionists in danger: In the current, unstable situation in the country, trade unionists are targeted by Iraqi militias, terrorist groups, allied occupation troops and others. So many violations of trade union rights occur in Iraq that those reported at the international level can only be considered a random sample.

Violations in 2006

Background: In November, Saddam Hussein was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death. Meanwhile, brutal sectarian violence continued as the country descended into chaos. Thousands of workers have died in the attacks that take place every day in Iraq. Workers in the oil industry, teaching and the civil service are regarded as "legitimate" targets by the bands sowing terror across the country.

Assassination of the trade unionist Alaa Issa Khalaf: At 7.30 am on 25 January, Alaa Issa Khalaf, a member of the Executive Bureau of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW) was shot dead when leaving home for work by several unidentified men.

Assassination of the trade unionist Thabet Hussein Ali: On 27 April, as he left his organisation's office in the Al-Mansur quarter of Bagdad, Thabet Hussein Ali, the leader of the health workers union, was abducted by a group of terrorists. His bullet-ridden corpse was discovered the day after his abduction. He was carrying signs of severe torture, including wounds caused by an electric drill.

Assassination of the trade unionist Tariq Mahdi: On 18 August Tariq Mahdi, a leader of the Union of Health Service Employees was murdered by a militia in Mahmoodya.

Countless abductions and violent attacks on trade unionists: In April, the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW) tried to make a list of the various attacks on, and abductions of trade union leaders in recent days. The list gives some idea of the situation. On 9 April, the Vice-President of the food and agriculture union was released by his kidnappers. He had been abducted three days' earlier. During his detention he had been badly tortured. Saled Jeyyaf, the Vice-President of the Basra Transport Union was injured by a bomb planted in his car. Amer Eifan of the union at the concrete factory in Abu Ghraib was abducted and then released, as was Najm Muhsen Al-Maksousi of the food and agriculture union. Natham Muhsen Aswad of the Baghdad branch of the building and wood workers union was abducted. His fate was unknown at the time of writing.

Interference in trade union affairs: On 8 March, the Supreme National Commission for De-Baathification (SNCD) sent a letter to the GFTU concerning the rules to be followed in the trade union elections. Based on Decree 3 of the Governmental Council, the SNCD wrote instructions on how to form the preparatory committees and on the designation of candidates to the unions' executive bureaus. On 23 March, the SCND also sent the IFTU a list of five people who were "not permitted to hold any leadership post in any federation, company, association or trade union in Iraq".

Intimidation of a port workers' union based on a law passed by Saddam Hussein: In March, after the union of port workers in Khour Al-Zubeir had complained about bad working conditions, the General Company of Iraqi Ports decided to close down the union's offices, to stop paying the wages of the union leaders and to send them 550 kilometres away from the town. In justifying these measures, the management cited Law 150 of 1987 which bans public sector workers from forming or joining a trade union. However in May the employers lifted the sanctions.

Workers at a cement factory severely beaten by private security guards: On 27 July, a demonstration by workers at a cement factory in Tasloja (Sulaimaniya), in support of a wage increase, was violently suppressed by the company's security guards. 13 strikers were injured. Afterwards the police arrested the guards.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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