Population: 68,500,000
Capital: Tehran
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 182

Government repression of trade union activity is increasing, and a number of trade union leaders were arrested, beaten up, detained or the victims of assassination attempts. The government brutally put down strikes or protests, and accused trade unionists of being "traitors".

Trade union rights in law

No independent trade unions: The government does not allow independent trade unions. The only "workers" organisation authorised by the government is the Workers' House, which is essentially a channel for government control over workers.

In 2003, representatives of the government, employers and the Workers' House reached an agreement to work on an amendment to the Labour Code to allow workers to form so-called "trade unions".

Islamic societies: The section on workers' and employers' organisations in the 1990 Labour Code stipulates that "the workers ... may establish Islamic societies and associations" to disseminate Islamic culture and to defend the achievements of the Islamic Revolution. No other workers' organisation can be set up in a workplace if an Islamic society, known as Islamic Shora or "Shoraya Eslami", already exists.

The law also provides for the creation of Islamic Labour Councils, which consist of representatives of the workers and one representative of management in industrial, agricultural and service organisations of more than 35 employees. The Labour Councils are overseen by the Workers' House.

The rules for the functioning of the Islamic Labour Councils, their constitutions and elections, are drawn up by the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, and the Islamic Information Organisation. The Council of Ministers then has to approve the rules. The councils now represent workers in tripartite meetings.

Government control: All collective agreements have to be submitted to the Ministry of Labour for examination and approval. The government maintains that this is to prevent these agreements from undermining the minimum rights established by law. The government sets wage levels in most industries and is the largest employer, accounting for 40 per cent of the workforce.

No strikes allowed: The law does not give workers the right to strike, but they can down tools so long as they remain at the workplace or operate a go-slow. A 1993 law prohibits public sector stoppages.

Export processing zones: Labour legislation does not apply in the export processing zones.

Most workers unprotected by the labour law: Workshops with less than five workers have been exempt from all labour laws; workshops with less than ten workers are exempt from some laws, with the result that 700,000 workers are not covered by the labour legislation. Workers at most carpet weaving workshops, for example, are not protected by existing labour legislation, including the right to organise.

Draft legislation exempting temporary workers from the scope of labour legislation was tabled in parliament in November 2004 but had not passed into law by the end of 2007. According to some reports, the government issued interim legislation, valid for a period of three years, which deprived temporary workers of protection under labour legislation in enterprises with less than ten employees. When it is eventually adopted, such legislation would deprive about 90 per cent of Iran's workforce of the protection of labour legislation, including the right to organise, annual leave, pay rises, the right to public holidays, and medical and social benefits. Workers on temporary work contracts have already been exempted from receiving unemployment benefits under legislation adopted earlier. In November there were strikes to protest against a new law that would make it easier to sack workers.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government continued to pursue the conservative economic policies and neoliberal agenda of his predecessor. The impact of UN sanctions on the economy was keenly felt, notably through factory closures and unpaid wages, and the government used this as an excuse to increase its oppression of workers.

Protest activity: Despite the ban on strikes, workers' protests and other work stoppages are a daily occurrence in Iran. They are often repressed. Most of these concern either low wages, the nonpayment of wages, layoffs or factory closures. The minimum wage set by the government is $US140 per month, while the official poverty line stands at $US300 a month. Nearly two million workers have not been paid – some for nearly two years.

Barriers to organising: Obstacles to organising include the presence of security and intelligence forces in workplaces and the increasing trend towards temporary contracts. It is common practice in Iran to fire workers the day before a three-month probation period expires. They or other workers are then hired on a new contract with a new period of three months probation. A worker hired under such a contract is not entitled to benefits and severance pay. According to statistics reportedly provided by the government, more than 1.5 million workers are hired in such conditions.

Crackdown on activists: Throughout the year, the government stepped up its crackdown on activists, including students, unionists and teachers. It was reported that this trend accelerated towards the end of the year when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused activists of being "traitors" who were pressuring the government in its nuclear standoff with the West.

Other groups and individuals were also subjected to legal and illegal intimidation. Independent unions were not recognised, their newspapers and websites were closed or subjected to pressure and activists were called for questioning and warned to be silent or face the wrath of the "Islamic Judiciary". Organisations like the Coordination Committee to form Independent Workers Organisations, the Steering Committee for the Pursuit of the Right to Form Independent Workers Bodies and Organisations, the Founding Board of the Union of Dismissed and Unemployed Workers and even Factory Committees were refused recognition and subjected to different forms of harassment and intimidation.

Repression of teachers' unions: During the year, teachers' organisations came under government repression. This began on 7 March after protests around the country against Parliament's failure to pass a Pay Parity Bill to improve teachers' dire economic situation.

Security and Intelligence Ministry agents raided the homes of over 20 union leaders, including Ali Akbar Baghani, Behesthti Langroodi and Alireza Hashemi, respectively head, spokesperson and secretary general of the Teachers Trade Association of Iran (Kanooneh Senfiyeh Moallemaneh Iran) around midnight on 7 March. The trade unionists were taken to secret locations, and while some were released the following day, others were re-arrested.

At a conciliation meeting set for 13 March, the Education Minister failed to appear. Instead, Intelligence Ministry and armed forces agents turned up and threatened and intimidated the teachers' representatives.

On 14 March, about 300 teachers were arrested at a demonstration outside Parliament to protest at the previous day's events. Fifty teachers were taken to the notorious Evin Prison, and 14 of them were kept in jail for two weeks despite a ruling from the head of Iran's judiciary ordering their immediate release. All those arrested were released on heavy bail and were accused of plotting to hold illegal gatherings and failing to comply with police orders.

On 8 April, 45 teachers from Hamadan Province were arrested and transferred to an unknown location, and teachers in other cities including Sanandaj and Ghochan were harassed and persecuted by the Education Ministry's security department.

On 6 September Hamid Rahmati, an activist teacher in Shahreza, was detained for 24 hours by the security forces, and Ms Baadpar, a member of the Teachers' Trade Association who was present when he was arrested, was also arrested but released a couple of hours later.

The Revolutionary Court of Tehran on 24 October sentenced dozens of teachers to suspended prison terms from two to five years. Ali Akbar Baghani, the head of the Teachers Trade Association of Iran (KSMI), and Ali Reza Hashemi, the superintendent of the Iranian Teachers Organization were sentenced to five years of suspended prison terms each. Mahmoud Beheshti, the spokesman of KSMI and Ali Safar Montajabi, Hamid Pourvosough, Mohammad Taghi Falahi, Mohammad Reza Rezaee and Nourolah Akbari, members of KSMI, were sentenced to four years. Karim Ghashghavi was sentenced to three years, and Alireza Akbari and Rasoul Bodaghi were sentenced to two years. Mohammad Khaksri, Mahmoud Bagheri and Ali Poursoleiman, also KSMI members were set go to court.

Four teachers from Khorasan province were sentenced to prison, and disciplinary measures were taken against them. Hamid Saedi, a Kurdish writer and teacher, was summoned to the Revolutionary Court of Sanandaj on 23 October. Mr. Saedi was among others charged with acting against national security. Hamid Saedi was imprisoned on the same charges last year, but he was released on bail.

Nine teachers in Hamedan sentenced to prison: A criminal court in Hamedan sentenced nine teachers to 91 days in prison each. Yousef Zareie, Majid Forozanfar, Jalal Naredi, Yosef Rafaieat, Hadi Golami, Nader Gadimi, Ali Najafi, Mahmoud Jalilian and Ali Sadegie were arrested in March by the security forces and spent 9 days in solitary confinement. The court found them guilty on 13 December of agitation and participating in unlawful strikes and school closings.

Union leader Mahmoud Salehi rearrested: Mahmoud Salehi, one of the "Saqez Seven" activists arrested for organising May Day activities in 2004, was re-arrested on 9 April and taken to Sanandaj Prison. He remained there, despite being in poor health. He has a stone in his one remaining kidney and requires regular dialysis, which is not available to him in prison, where conditions are very bad.

Mahmoud Selehi is the spokesman and a co-founder of the Coordination Committee for the Establishment of Workers' Organisations and the former president of the Bakery Workers' Association of Saqez.

He and two colleagues, Jalal Hosseini and Mohsen Hakimi, were sentenced in a clearly unfair trial in November 2006. He received four years' imprisonment for "conspiracy to commit crimes against national security", while Hosseini and Hakimi were sentenced to two years' imprisonment. They appealed against these sentences, and Selehi's last appeal trial ended on 11 March 2007 with no official verdict.

He was then re-arrested on 9 April and, after being held for 14 days incommunicado, was finally allowed to receive visits from his lawyer and family on 23 April. He was held in prison in Sanandaj 400 kilometres away from his home, and by June he was reported to be very ill and denied the right to proper medical treatment.

By July his health required him to go to hospital for treatment, but the authorities prevented this, allegedly because the journey would weaken him, and subsequently he was reported to have fallen into a coma. Following the International Day of Action on 24 July, Salehi received medical treatment in a hospital outside Sanandaj prison and again on 23 August and 2 September. Each time he was then sent back to prison.

Rally in support of Mahmoud Salehi violently attacked: A peaceful rally of bakery workers on 16 April held to demand his release was violently attacked by security officers with batons and gas sprays, and many demonstrators were injured. Jalal Hosseini and Mohammad Adbipour were summoned to the prosecutor's office to prevent them from attending the rally.

May Day rallies attacked by police: Thousands of workers taking part in May Day demonstrations throughout the country were violently attacked by police. In Tehran, Ministry of Information security agents arrested and tried to detain Mansour Osanloo, leader of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Vahed Syndicate) and a well-known trade union organiser. His colleagues prevented this, but Yaghub Salimi, from the same union, was arrested for helping him to escape. Salimi was released a few hours later.

In Kermanshah, workers had to finish their rally early amid police threats and harassment.

Arrested trade union leaders held incommunicado: Following a May Day rally in Sanandaj, Shoeys Amani, president of the Trade Union of Dismissed and Unemployed Workers, and Sedigh Karimi, a member of the board of directors of the same union, were arrested and held incommunicado for two months, accused of disturbing public order, and Amani was additionally charged with agitating among workers against the state. In the rally in which police used pepper and anaesthetic sprays and batons, about 20 trade unionists were arrested. All the other 18 were released between 10 and 12 days later.

Amini and Karimi were released on 12 June, but Karimi had to pay a bail of $54,000. They were later reported as being sentenced to 30 months' imprisonment but appealed against the charges.

Bus company union vice president beaten and arrested: On 10 June Ebrahim Madadi, vice president of the Executive Board of the Vahed Syndicate, was beaten by a deputy director of Tehran Province Labour Department and other members of his staff during a visit to the Ministry.

After he had filed a complaint, he was arrested and taken to branch 12 of Tehran justice department for a hearing on 3 July. There he was told that he had been arrested because he had not responded to a summons sent to his home, which he had never received.

The union organised a rally immediately with a protest message from the ITF on the following day. As a result, Madadi was released within 24 hours.

Transport union leader Mansour Osanloo beaten and imprisoned: Mansour Osanloo was abducted from a bus at about 7 p.m. on 10 July by a group of people. The attackers told other passengers to keep away, beat him severely, bundled him into an unmarked car and took him away. Two days later, the authorities admitted that he was taken to Evin prison, where he was sent to section 209 of the prison (political prisoners' wing) and held in solitary confinement. His lawyers were prevented from contacting him, prompting fears that he was being physically abused.

This followed his recent visit to Europe to rally international support for Iran's independent trade unions and address the ITF Road Transport Meeting on 13 June in London and the ITUC General Council in Brussels on 21 June.

Mr Osanloo had formed the Vahed Syndicate in June 2005, and soon after brought the transport network to a standstill in protest at a new rule that female passengers had to sit at the back of buses. He has been arrested and beaten up several times and was imprisoned from December 2005 to August 2006 and from November to December 2006.

Indonesia trade unionists Hanafi Rustandi and Syukur Sarto visited Tehran between 7 – 10 October to express their solidarity with the independent workers' movement. Just after this visit, he was reported to be at risk for losing the sight in one eye after being denied medical treatment from Evin prison. Amnesty International organised a highly successful online protest. On 20 October, he was finally allowed to go to hospital for treatment but was then returned to prison despite it being detrimental to his health.

On 30 October his five-year prison sentence was confirmed: four years for threatening state security, and one for propaganda against the Islamic regime.

On 3 September in Tehran, when Mansour Osanloo's wife and sister attempted to meet United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, who was visiting Iran, they were bundled into cars by plainclothes' police officers. Relatives of a number of detained students who were also there to see Arbour were also arrested. Following vehement protests they were all released.

Eleven trade unionists sentenced to prison and to whipping: On 4 August eleven members of the Dismissed and Unemployed Workers' Union were sentenced to 91 days in prison and 10 lashes of the whip for participating in May Day rallies in Sanandaj. The eleven are Khaled Savari, Habibollah Kallehkani, Fars Gavilian, Seddigh Amjadi, Seddigh Sobhani, Abbas Andaryari, Mohieddin Rajabi, Teyyeb Melai, Tayyeb Chatani, Yadollah Moradi and Eghbal Latifi.

Five union leaders arrested during International Day of Action: On 9 August 2007, during an international "Iran Day of Action" organised by the ITUC and the ITF to demand the release from prison of Mansour Osanloo and Mahmoud Salehi, state security agents arrested five executive board members of the Vahed Syndicate: Ebrahim Madadi, Yagoub Salimi, Seyed Davoud Razavi, Ebrahim Norouzi Ghohari and Homayoun Jaberiat. They were arrested to prevent them taking part in a rally called at Mansour Osanloo' house. Also arrested were Teher Sadeghi and Ms Fatemeh Hajiloo of the Tavana Jab Journal, a periodical about disabled people. They were all taken to Evin prison but were released at the end of August, except for Ebrahim Madadi.

Madadi was transferred to Gezel Hesar Prison on 16 October, where he is held with hardened criminals and drug users and where his health deteriorated. On 30 October he was told that he was being sentenced to two years' imprisonment. He was eventually released on 16 December.

Despite the repression, the International Day of Action had successfully persuaded the authorities to allow Osanloo to meet his lawyers in Evin prison and call his wife and for Mahmoud Salehi to receive medical treatment in hospital outside Sanandaj prison.

Dozens of union activists dismissed: In January and February 2007, a number of union activists, who were suspended from work in the Tehran Bus Company for their trade union activities from December 2005 to January 2006, received letters of employment termination from the Ministry of Labour. As of 20 February 2007, 40 workers had their employment terminated and four others were dismissed in June.

Attempt to assassinate labour activist: On 18 October, three plain clothes agents attempted to assassinate Majid Hamidi, member of the Coordinating Committee to Form Workers' Organisations, as well as a member of the Defence Committee for Mahmoud Salehi in Sanandaj. He was shot seven times in the arms, shoulder and neck.

Haft Tapeh Sugar Works strike leaders detained: On 5 November, Ghorban Alipour and Mohammad Heydari Mehr, two organisers of the Haft Tapeh Suger Workers' strike, were arrested and detained. They were refused bail, despite the posting of the $50,000 security for each of them.

Five thousand workers from the Haft Tapeh Sugar Plantation at Shoush in Khuzestan Province had started their strike in October, demanding payment of late wages. The government sent in security forces to break up the strike and arrested the two organisers. During the year, the workers went on strike about 10 times to demand payment. A three week strike in 30 September had won minor concessions from management, including the payment of one month's wages.

Haft Tapeh workers' representative was detained: Fereydoun Nikoufard, a representative of Haft Tapeh Sugar Plantation workers, was arrested by security forces on October 20, 2007 and taken to an unknown location. He was released later in the day. The workers of Haft Tapeh Sugar Plantation threatened the management to go on strike should their colleague representative not be released shortly. Authorities offered no reason for Mr Nikoufard's short detention. Fereydoun Nikoufard was also arrested and detained on 16 October by security forces on unknown charges.

Founder of Painters Union arrested: Reza Dehghan, member of the Founding Committee of the Painters Union (Syndica Nagash) was arrested on 18 November and detained in Evin Prison. It is suspected that this was in connection to his trade union activities and his support of Mansour Osanloo.

Four of workers/union activist arrested: Mohsen Hakimi, Ebrahim Gohari, Alireza Asgari and Hossein Gholami were arrested by law enforcement authorities during a family outing in Chitgar Park in Tehran on 14 December. One day after their arrest, the Revolutionary Court claimed that they could be released on bail, but according to Mr. Hakimi's wife, the court refused to accept bail in the form of personal guarantees for her husband, Aliraza Asgari and Hossein Gholami and a 20 million tomans ($20,000) bail for Ebrahim Gohari.

150 workers beaten and tear-gassed in Ahvaz: On 26 September, 150 workers of the Shouhshtar Paper Mil protesting back wages gathered in front of the provincial building in Ahvaz and were met by security forces and tear gas.

A labour activist in Tabriz arrested: On May 22, security forces arrested Changiz Bakhtavar, a labour activist in Tabriz, during a recent crack down on activists in Azerbaijan state. It was reported that the whereabouts of Mr. Bakhtavar was unknown. The year before, during unrest in the region, he was imprisoned for four months.

This 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.