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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Iraq

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 - Iraq, 11 June 2009, available at: [accessed 16 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: 29,000,000
Capital: Baghdad
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Laws from the old regime, which severely restrict trade unions, have not been replaced, despite promises. The president of the Journalists' Union was assassinated, another escaped death narrowly and the government tried to intervene in union elections and to repress active unionism amongst oil workers.

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, but has been held up by the Council of Ministers, so has not reached Parliament. When passed, it would recognise all trade unions with exceptions (see below), offer some protection against discrimination against trade unionists, protect workers from discriminatory action, such as death threats, and allow 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).

Last year, following union pressure, 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. Law 150, adopted in 1987 bans all public sector workers from organising or going on strike, and 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: Decree 8750, introduced by the new regime in August 2005, severely limits trade unionism in Iraq by prohibiting trade unions from holding funds, collecting dues and maintaining assets.

Migrant workers: Tens of thousands of workers from South Asia, Africa and elsewhere are employed and living in US military camps in rather harsh conditions. Many have to pay illegal recruitment fees and have their passports confiscated on arrival.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: The government reacted harshly to trade union activity, particularly in the oil sector. There was a wave of strikes and protests during the year.

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), 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.

Government interference in trade union elections: In May, the government announced that it would be holding trade union elections, and that the election supervisory body would be government appointed. The ITUC complained to the government that these elections do not allow for trade union pluralism, as not all unions are allowed to stand for elections, fully participate in the election process and the public sector is excluded.

GFIW offices broken into and searched: US forces broke into the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW) offices in central Baghdad, and searched them on 14 January.

President of Iraqi Union of journalists assassinated: Shihab Al-Timimi died of a heart attack after his car was hit by a hail of bullets in a targeted attack following a meeting of the union leadership, on 23 February. He was a fierce critic of Iraq's sectarian violence.

New head of journalists' union victim of bomb attack: On 24 September, Moaid Al-Lami, who had replaced Shihab Al-Timimi as president of the Iraqi Union of Journalists narrowly missed being killed, and was taken to hospital with cuts and bruises when a bomb exploded outside the union headquarters.

Oil workers' union activists forcibly transferred: On 11 May, eight members of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) in Basra, including the president of the Basra oil refinery union, were transferred to a dangerous area, the Baghdad Al-Dura neighbourhood. The union had been very vocal in its opposition to the proposed new hydrocarbons law. It had also petitioned the Labour Minister for the right for the union to be recognised and for a pluralistic Iraqi trade union Congress. When they arrived in Baghdad, they were interrogated about their union affiliation and their relationships with regional and international partners. After national and international trade union protests, in July, the eight unionists were reallocated back to Basra.

However, in a further attack on the union, the government then threatened to remove another activist, Jabbar Lu'aiby, from Basra to Baghdad and to change his state from a staff member to consultant.

Female contract workers, including union vice president sacked: On 31 May, 34 contract workers employed by the Baghdad municipality in the Al-Dura neighbourhood were sacked, including the FWCUI's new Vice President.

US forces arrest union President: Haider Hamid, of the electric workers and technicians union in Nassiryya and president of the union committee for the energy transfer network was arrested on 17 June without clear charges. He is an active member of the union coordinating committee affiliated with the FWCUI.

Striking workers threatened with transfer: On 19 October, the management of the General Cotton Industries Company in Baghdad threatened to transfer workers to other locations unless they stopped their strike.

Textile Union President disciplined for distributing leaflets: On the same day, Haider Ibrahim, President of the Textile Union in Nassiryya, was disciplined for distributing leaflets supporting the idea of a strike against a Minister of Finance's decision. The action was withdrawn after his colleagues protested.

Security guards open fire during migrant protest: Security guards opened fire when a riot broke out among 1,000 migrant workers protesting against poor treatment and housing, on 4 December, during a visit by immigration officials. The workers, from Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka, were hired by the Najlaa International Catering Service, a subcontractor to Houston-based KBR to work at a number of military bases.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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