Striking oil workers demand better wages and working conditions in Iran

Petrochemical workers on major strike in Iran.
Tens of thousands of contract workers are on strike in Iran, demanding better wages, improved working conditions, reduced working hours, and adequate social security, as well as the right to free healthcare, free education, accessible housing, and a union.
Tens of thousands of contract workers are on strike in Iran, demanding better wages, improved working conditions, reduced working hours, and adequate social security, as well as the right to free healthcare, free education, accessible housing, and a union.

The strike has spread across the country, with thousands of workers at over 22 refineries and projects in the oil and gas centres, including Jahan Pars, Gachsaran Petrochemicals, Tehran Refinery, and Abadan Refinery, forcing a number of projects to suspend operations.

The strikes began on June 22, led mainly by temporary and contract workers in the petrochemical sector, but have since expanded to include workers in the oil and natural gas industries. Regular employees of government-owned facilities are scheduled to start their own strike in the coming days.

The workers are employed by subcontracting companies who provide labour for development projects in the oil and gas fields, and try to control workers’ demands by employing them on rolling short-term contracts.

Striking workers say conditions in the dormitories are poor and unhygienic, the food in the canteens is sub-standard, and wages are low.

The strike is dubbed “Campaign 1400” in reference to the current Iranian calendar year 1400. The workers are also demanding unpaid wages and the reinstatement of 700 colleagues dismissed during the strike.

There are around 154,000 workers in Iran's energy and petrochemical sectors with temporary or contract status who do not enjoy «the benefits regular employees.

Currently, non-regular employees receive under $300 a month, and they are demanding around $500 to make ends meet. Iran is struggling with a nearly 50-percent annual inflation rate since the United States re-imposed brutal sanctions on the country in 2018, unilaterally withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear deal that was set to offer Iran sanctions relief in return for curbs on the country's nuclear program.

Because independent unions are not recognized by the government and are systematically restricted, the strike action has been coordinated by workers’ strike committees which have released 3 statements so far to lay out their demands.

The following is a translation of the first of these statements, released on June 20, 2021:

Statement of Contract Workers at Iran’s Refineries, and Petrochemical and Power Plants

We are going on strike to pursue our demands.

We, the contract workers of the refineries, petrochemical, and power plants, are resuming our massive, general strikes, as we had announced, in protest against the low level of wages, the daily reduction of our purchasing power, and the breaking of promises. We pursue our demands by gathering in front of our work centers. On the 29th of Khordad* (June 19, 2021), our project colleagues in Farab Bidkhoon Power Plant Company went on strike, demanding an increase in wages as well as a schedule of 20 working days and 10 days of leave, which is called the Twenty-Ten Plan, and collectively left the power plant for their homes. These workers have stated that they will not return to the plant until their demands are met.

Our strike is a warning strike and will last for a week. On the 9th of Tir* (June 30, 2021), we will join the ranks of our regular colleagues who have announced their protest. During this week of protests, we gather in our workplaces to try to make collective decisions and make our voices heard among our co-workers everywhere.

Our stated demands are:

  • The wages of any worker in the oil sector should not be less than 12 million tomans,* and the wages should increase immediately and by in alignment with the increase in the price of the goods. In addition, other wage levels must be agreed upon with the elected representatives of the workers.
  • Delay in the payment of wages is a crime and an obvious theft. Salaries must be paid on time each month.
  • We object to temporary and contract work. We want the hands of contractors to be kept away [from our work], and we want job security and permanent employment contracts. No to the dismissal of workers.
  • The slavery laws of the special economic zones, which are a barrier between us and other job sectors of society, and according to which parasite employers are allowed to commit any kind of offense against our lives and livelihoods, must be repealed immediately.
  • We want our work environment to be safe. Our work environments are like explosive bombs: terrible fires, falls from heights, noise pollution caused by the explosion of petroleum products, inhalation of toxic and chemical substances, along with non-standard health conditions and clinics, are taking a toll on us every day, and have caused much mental damage and casualties to the workers. Working in the scorching heat of summer without necessary cooling equipment and standard air conditioners has increased the work pressure a hundredfold. The oil industry is a large, profitable part of society. Our work centers must be safe and equipped with the highest environmental standards. In the oil industry, sufficient funds should be allocated to secure work environments and equip work centers with the required cooling and heating facilities and air conditioners — as many as necessary — and to improve the health standards in dormitories and public places such as toilets and bathrooms, etc.
  • We oil workers are tired of the securitization of our work environments, and this situation must end. Organizing, gathering, and protesting are our inalienable rights.

In conclusion, we express our firm support for our permanent colleagues in the oil sector who have announced that if their demands are not met, they will protest on the 9th of Tir (June 30, 2021), and their call is to gather on that day.

The demands we recounted are the demands of all oil workers, including our permanent colleagues. In addition, these colleagues are protesting against the 1400 wage increase, which is in fact an offense against their lives and livelihoods, the imposition of heavy taxes on their salaries, and the non-implementation of Article 10, resulting in the removal of some of their wage items.

At the center of the protests of our regular colleagues, like ours, the contract workers, is the issue of wages; their insufficiency for our living and subsistence expenses, the staggering increase in the price of goods and housing, and the deprivation of basic needs such as free medical treatment and education for all, and the right to housing, have made life difficult for us and all people in our society. We want these basic rights to be realized and want free medical treatment and education for all people. Decent human life is the right of all of us, the people.

Council for Organizing Protests by Oil Contract Workers

30 Khordad 1400 (June 20, 2021)

*Khordad is the third month of the Solar Hijri calendar, which is the official calendar of Iran.

*Tir is the fourth month of the Solar Hijri calendar, which is the official calendar of Iran.

*The US dollar stands at nearly 24,700 tomans in Tehran's free exchange market today.

Photo: fair use

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