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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Iraq

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Iraq, 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 24 November 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 January, staff from Baghdad's most famous hotel went on strike demanding a safety bonus after numerous mortar attacks and the death of two staff. Also in January the President of Basra's Iraqi Teachers Union was imprisoned, and the government sought to interfere with its elections. Iraqi police raided and shut down the offices of the electricity unions. In March after oil workers protested over low pay and their union's illegal status, union leaders were transferred, while in June dock workers protesting the prohibition of unions in ports south of Basra were surrounded by troops, and their leaders transferred. Trade union rights in law are very restricted.


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 prohibits public sector workers from organising, and also bars all public sector workers from going on strike. Furthermore, a Ministerial order issued on 20 July 2010 prohibits all trade union activities at the Ministry of Electricity and its departments and sites. Decree 8750, which was introduced by the new regime in August 2005, also 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.

In April 2010 a decision was taken by the Higher Ministerial Committee to prohibit all travel of trade union delegations participating in any international meetings or conferences unless approved by the Committee.


Background: In June 2009 US troops began to withdraw, handing over security to Iraqi forces. By the end of 2011 all US troops are meant to be gone from Iraq. Violence has reportedly lessened although attacks and suicide bombs continue. Despite extensive restrictions and an increasingly hostile environment, trade unions continue to organise outside the law, and May Day saw rallies all over the country. In elections held in March, the then Prime Minister Nouri Maliki invoked his military powers to call for a recount against the apparent slim victory for Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya coalition. Nine months of political stalemate followed until Maliki was picked for a second term as prime minister in November 2010 under a power-sharing agreement. The situation remains volatile.

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.

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.

Teachers Union officials threatened and free elections hampered: In 2009 the government committee responsible for overseeing trade union elections announced that the Iraqi Teachers Union (ITU) had to hold elections. However, the union believed that it was clear the committee members were seeking political domination over the union. The ITU therefore refused to participate, arguing that they had recently held their own elections under their union's rules. They also obtained a court ruling declaring the interference of the committee to be illegal.

Nevertheless, elections were held in January 2010 but with widespread voting irregularities. The ITU leadership refused to recognise the results. Ibrahim al-Battat, the Basra president of the ITU, was also detained for eight days and threatened for not handing over the union's membership list while an arrest warrant was issued for Jasim Hussein Mohammed, the national leader of the ITU.

Textile strike leader transferred: On 7 December 2009 a 53-day strike by 1,500 leather workers in Iraq concluded successfully after the state-run Enterprise of Leather Industries and Iraq's Ministry of Industry acceded to demands of workers on safety benefits. The leather workers, part of the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions of Iraq (FWCUI), won added payments totalling 25-30% of salaries for working in hazardous conditions. The strikers only began work after all workers had been paid their safety stipend in cash. Their strike also spurred other similar textile workers to stage strikes.

However, in January 2010 the Ministry of Industry retaliated by transferring the leader of strike, FWCUI President Falah Alwan, to another enterprise in order to suppress his union activities.

Oil workers strike in Basra: In March workers at the South Refineries Company / Southern Oil Company in Basra went on strike after the failure of negotiations. They were calling for a change in company management and an increase in salaries. As a result of the actions, four key union leaders were transferred to other regions. In July the long-running negotiations between the unions and the authorities ended after a protest attended by more than 500 people was dispersed and two men briefly arrested.

The state-run company also brought charges against two prominent oil union leaders. Hassan Juma, president of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, and Faleh Abood Umara, the federation's general secretary, were accused of "impeding the work" at oil developments in Basra and "urging workers to stand against senior management". According to officials, the union leaders had made threatening remarks directed at foreign oil companies, thereby harming the country's economy. Oil unions are technically illegal in Iraq.

Port workers demonstration met by military: In May and June, dock workers, represented by the Port Workers' Union, based in Basra, protested against plans to transfer their union leaders some 1,000 kilometres away from their current workplace as a result of their union activity. During the protest, the Iraqi Harbour Corporation brought in military troops that surrounded and intimidated the protesters. Previous demonstrations had been held in February and March.

Iraq bans unions in the electricity sector: On 21 July 2010 police officers stormed offices of the Electricity Workers' Union across Iraq, carrying out an order from the Ministry of Electricity to shut them down. The Ministerial order, issued on 20 July 2010, reportedly "prohibits all trade union activities at the Ministry and its departments and sites". It orders the police, "to close all trade union offices and bases and to take control of the union's assets, properties and documents, furniture and computers". It also instructs the Ministry to take legal action against trade union officials under the 2005 Terrorism Act. The order emphasises and echoes the continuing use of the Saddam-era law banning trade unions from the public sector.

Despite billions spent on contracts to rebuild power plants, Basra residents only got power for a few hours a day, which led to demonstrations in June. The protests were supported by the Electricity Worker's Union – the first national union led by a woman, Hashmeya Muhsin – but were violently put down by police, killing one protester and injuring several others. The Ministry then issued an order to shut the union down, and as a result some 1,000 local residents protested, leading to further retaliation from the authorities and the raids on the union offices.

President of the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate survives second assassination attempt: In March the President of the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate, Moaid Al-Lami, survived a second assassination attempt. Al-Lami was first attacked in a bomb blast in September 2008 that left him with a shattered arm. That attack came only two months after his election, which followed the assassination of his predecessor, Shibab Al-Tamimi, in February 2008.

The International Federation of Journalists reports that while Iraqi journalists' death toll has dropped markedly as general violence has subsided, there is a growing threat to those journalists who remain independent despite political pressure.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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