Iraq: oil workers threaten strike

From the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM), May 15:

The Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri Al-Maliki, will meet in Baghdad with a delegation of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU), led by its President, Hassan Jumaa Awad Alasady, tomorrow, Wednesday, 16 May 2007.

The meeting was hurriedly arranged by the Iraqi Prime Minister in a late attempt to avert threatened strike action that would involve all workers and technicians throughout the oil industry of the South, stopping production in all of the oil companies in Basra, Misan, Thi-Qar and Muthanna and affecting all domestic oil products as well as the export of crude oil. The strike may still take place.

The trade union delegation will return to Basra on Thursday, 17 May, where the union will decide on further steps according to the outcome of the discussions with the Prime Minister.

This is no idle threat. The IFOU, previously known as the GUOE-Basra, has over 26,000 members throughout the ten state oil companies in the south of Iraq and has a past history of strike action in defence of its members and the industry.

The union is also at the forefront of the Iraqi trade union struggle against the proposed hydrocarbons law which, as written, would benefit the multinational oil industry far more than the Iraqi people. Indeed, one demand on the table when the meeting takes place is a call for serious consultations to take place with the trade unions on the present contents of the draft law, and that the trade unions must be able to review any proposed legislation prior to any attempted introduction.

ICEM is following the situation closely and will be calling on affiliated trade unions for solidarity action in the event of a strike.

The strike threat was initially made in a 27 April public letter to the Iraqi Oil Minister, following discussion at the union’s Executive Board meeting with broad member representation the previous day in Basra. The meeting formulated a list of demands and the call for a strike was unanimously adopted if the demands were not met by 10 May 2007.

The strike date was postponed from 10 May to 14 May as the union entered negotiations with a committee formed by the Iraqi Council of Ministers. No direct negotiations with the Oil Ministry took place and a second postponement of the strike was due to the intervention of the Prime Minister, and the ICEM hopes that his decision to meet the union delegation personally will be significant.

The strike call came after numerous demands of the union that the Iraqi government had promised to implement last year had still not been met. Some outstanding commitments are unfulfilled, after having been made several years ago.

Many of the demands are related to wages and working conditions, including a demand for wage increases, the payment of a previously agreed bonus that is based on the distribution to workers of a proportion of oil revenues achieved by the company, no salary deductions to be made for granted vacation days, and the delivery of land parcels for housing to workers.

Further demands are for the recruitment of new graduates, as well as the promotion of workers where this has been stalled. The union also calls for full time permanent status to be given to workers presently classed as temporary contract workers.

Faced with increased pollution in oil facilities and evidence that there is a major increase in the incidence of cancers among the workforce the union has also tabled health and safety demands.

All of these demands and the strike call were discussed by Hassan Jumaa at a meeting in Amman, Jordan, 1 May 2007 with a delegation from ICEM, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) of the United Kingdom, and the Jordan office of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The aim of the meeting was principally to improve communication channels between Hassan Jumaa’s union and the international trade union movement, as well as to discuss future joint work and cooperation.

Discussions were detailed and wide-ranging and we look forward to increased cooperation in the future. This is already happening with Arabic speaking staff of both the ITUC and the Solidarity Center of AFL-CIO having facilitated communication between IFOU and ICEM and the TUC over recent days.

Read the letter by the IFOU to the Iraqi oil minister in English or Arabic.

See our last posts on Iraq, the struggle for the oil and labor struggles and the civil resistance.

  1. Union leaders threatened
    Via Hands Off Iraqi Oil, May 8:

    Iraqi Oil Workers to Strike Over Privatisation Law

    Iraq’s largest oil workers’ trade union will strike this Thursday, in protest at the controversial oil law currently being considered by the Iraqi parliament. The move threatens to stop all exports from the oil-rich country.

    The oil law proposes giving multinational companies the primary role in developing Iraq’s huge untapped oilfields, under contracts lasting up to 30 years. Oil production in Iraq, like in most of the Middle East, has been in the public sector since the 1970s.

    The Union, representing 26,000 oil workers, has held three previous strikes since 2003, each time stopping exports, for up to two days at a time. The announcement of the strike has spurred negotiations with the Ministry of Oil, which are ongoing.

    Imad Abdul-Hussain, Federation Deputy Chair of the IFOU said: “The central government must be in total ownership and complete control of production and the export of oil”. He warned against the controversial Production Sharing Agreements favoured by foreign companies, saying other forms of co-operation with foreign companies would be acceptable but not at the level of control and profiteering indicated in the current Oil Law.

    Federation President Hassan Jumaa Awad al Assadi said: ‘The oil law does not represent the aspirations of the Iraqi people. It will let the foreign oil companies into the oil sector and enact privatisation under so called production sharing agreements. The federation calls for not passing the oil law, because it does not serve the interests of the Iraqi people.”

    The Union is not alone in its’ condemnation of the current oil law. Opponents of the law also include all of Iraq’s other trade unions, a number of political parties, and a group of over 60 senior Iraqi oil experts.

    Hassan Jumaa went on to say: “The federation calls on all unions in the world to support our demands and to put pressure on governments and the oil companies not to enter the Iraqi oil fields.”

    Union members are also demanding an improved salary structure and a distribution of land for building homes.

    Ewa Jasiewicz of Naftana – the UK Support Committee for the IFOU said: “The Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, like any union, has the right to engage in collective bargaining over issues important to their members. In this case, the issue of who controls Iraq’s oil and the economic future of the country is an issue which is important to all Iraqis. The Union has repeatedly called for civil society inclusion in the drafting of the oil law and has been ignored. They are now asserting their right to have a voice in the decision making process affecting their industry and Iraq’s economic future – their courage and commitment to democracy should be supported.”

    Instead of the union’s participation being welcomed, leaders have been accused of jeopardizing security and threatened with legal action.

    Farouq Al-Asadi, the Federation’s Secretary said: “The Oil Minister chooses to forget that the right to strike is guaranteed by the constitution – we have chosen the legal path.”

    Union leaders have already received a number of death threats which they are taking seriously. “As soon as the federation called for the strike, many of our members and officials were physically threatened by parties active in the political process, with the aim of thwarting the strike and undermining the message of the strike organisers.”


    Hassan Jumaa Awad Al Assadi, President of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions
    00964 7801 001 196 or 00964 7804 114 619

    Sami Ramadani, lecturer and writer and member of
    Naftana – UK Support
    Committee for the IFOU 0044 7863 138 748

    Ewa Jasiewicz, Naftana UK Support Group for the IFOU
    and Hands Off Iraqi Oil Campaign
    0044 7749 421 576


    The IFOU is an independent trade union representing workers across 4 southern provinces in Iraq: Misan, Dhi Qar, Basra and Mauthanna in nine oil and gas related companies.

    The Union has been organizing since April 2003 and has stopped oil exports and production over wages and workers rights in the past. It has also held protests against oil smuggling, former regime bosses and what the union sees as the deliberate neglect and degradation of the industry in order to justify private investment.

    Union members have carried out reconstruction work on drilling rigs, port equipment, pipelines and refineries since the invasion with minimal, mostly local resources.

    The Union is not linked to any political party in Iraq but has members which belong to various parties.

    The Union enjoys the support of trade unions and civil society organizations around the world including the International Confederation of Energy, Mining and General Workers Union (ICEM), the AFL-CIO in the US, and the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) in the UK including the NUJ and TGWU. The union is partnered with UK development charity War on Want, the 3 milllion strong US Labor Against War in the USA, and Italian NGO Un Ponte Per.

  2. Union leaders assassinated
    From ICEM, Jan 17:

    ICEM Condemns Killings Within Iraq’s Oil Industry

    Two recent and separate attacks by lawless militia groupings in Iraq have incensed the ICEM, the Global Union Federation for the energy sector. Both attacks, one random, on 16 January, in which a dedicated trade unionist was slain, the other, on 11 January, a targeted slaying of oil engineers in route to a union’s press conference, “reflect the failures of both the occupation forces and of the al-Maliki government,” according to ICEM General Secretary Manfred Warda.

    The ICEM was appalled to learn of the death of Mohammed Hameed, a dedicated trade union organiser of the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI). He was among a group of 15 civilians who were randomly gunned down in an open marketplace in southern Baghdad near his home. Hameed had been out on a walk when he was caught in a hail of gunfire.

    “It hurts tremendously when a trade unionist is killed in a situation like this,” stated Warda. “Brother Hameed was a person who had the vision and fortitude to help build a just and decent civil society inside Iraq.” Hameed, who was in his 30s, scored several advances last summer for oil industry workers in the Baghdad area, who constantly attempt to escape poverty conditions in the strife-ridden area.

    He is survived by his wife, who is an active trade unionist herself inside the service sector side of the FWCUI, and two children.

    The second incident occurred five days earlier, when militia gunmen abducted eight engineers of the Iraqi Oil Ministry as they were travelling in a vehicle to a FWCUI press conference on fuel price increases. Four of the kidnapped victims were released. One engineer, Abdukareem Mahdi, was later found dead, after being tortured. The other three, Nazar Fattah, Adil Yahia and Ahmed Maulood, remain missing and are presumed dead.

    “We are disappointed with the response from the government and the lack of information given us by the authorities on these heinous crimes,” said Falah Alwan, the president of FWCUI. “The Iraqi government must take responsibility for the lawlessness that has become so prevalent in the oil industry, as well as for the obvious security deficiencies that has allowed ordinary workers to be killed every day.”