Iran: contract workers demand rights

On May 24, a massive explosion and fire at a newly inaugurated oil refinery in Abadan led to the deaths and injuries of an unknown number of workers. The explosion, caused by technical problems, occurred during a facility inauguration ceremony that had prompted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to boast of Iran’s growing capacity to refine oil. According to Hamid Reza Katouzian, head of the Energy Commission of the Majles, Iran’s parliament, “experts had forewarned that the Abadan refinery was not ready to be inaugurated.” The explosion underscored once again the lack of safe working conditions in Iran’s oil and petrochemical industry. In addition, recent labor strikes have challenged the industry’s reliance on temporary contracts for its labor force. In March, 1,800 contract workers at the Tabriz Petrochemical Complex demanded that they be hired directly in order to receive the benefits and job security provisions to which permanent employees are entitled. In April, 1,500 striking workers at the Imam Khomeini Port Petrochemical Complex in Khuzestan made similar demands.

In a May interview with the Tehran-based journal Mehrnameh, Iranian economist Mohammad Maljoo analyzes the regime’s use of contract workers as a neoliberal measure designed to break working class power:

[T]he plan to turn the labor force into a temporary labor force, did not only lead to a lowering of all wages. It also gravely affected the other components which determine the conditions of labor and the subsistence level of the labor force. These components include housing, the employment process, the length of the working day, the annual vacation time, job security, workplace safety, the extent to which benefits authorized by the Labor Code were applied or excluded.

In the years after the Iran-Iraq war, the mushrooming of contractors which provided personnel, the extended outsourcing as well as the massive increase in temporary workers, and hence the cheapening of the labor force, have led to a decline in job security and a decline in the individual and collective bargaining power of the labor force. Hiring temporary contract workers allows employers to circumvent labor laws and pay workers the lowest salaries. The temporary character of labor and the lack of job security, decreases solidarity among workers, especially given the continuously high unemployment rate…

From Iranian Progressives in Translation, June 7

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