Massive nationwide walkouts over pay and working conditions by Iranian oil and gas workers entered their seventh day on Monday. Other bodies have now stepped in to support the tens of thousands of striking workers, including the Teachers’ Union of Iran, more than 100 activists in Sanandaj, Kurdistan, and Iraqi and international trade unions.
Employees at the NGL-3100 gas refinery in Ilam province have now also downed tools, bringing the total number of affected facilities controlled by the Ministry of Oil to 70. The last week has seen the biggest wave of industrial action of its kind since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iranian Trade Unions Back Oil and Gas Workers’ Demands
Members of trade unions, syndicates and retirees’ organizations in Iran have come out in droves in support of the strike. A joint statement to this end has been published by the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-industrial Complex Labor Syndicate, the Iranian Retirees' Union, the Coordinating Committee to Help Workers' Organisations, the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company and the Eslamshahr Cultural Workers' Union.
In it, the signatories declared: "This nationwide, unified and decisive strike by contract workers in the oil and petrochemical industries is the result of their common demands and their will to see them met. With the support of official [government-contracted] workers, it continues, like a roaring and powerful flood."
The strike was compelled by a combination of issues including meager salaries, wage arrears, poor and unsafe working conditions, and crucially the discrepancies between the privileges enjoyed by “official” employees of the Oil Ministry and permanent employees who are farmed out to subcontractors on worse terms on a project-by-project basis.
The statement's signatories said these were shared concerns in other sectors, and added: "We call on all workers, retirees, teachers, students, intellectuals, artists, journalists, and hardworking and honorable men and women in society to support this righteous movement and to fully support the workers in achieving their goals.”
Iran’s Parliamentary Energy Committee Tries to Appease Oil Workers
On Sunday, July 27, members of the Iranian Parliamentary Energy Committee met to discuss the ongoing strikes and how to resolve them. However, the meeting appeared to have had an exclusive focus on the oil industry.
A spokesman for the committee has since announced that the question of the Ministry of Oil staff salaries would be addressed in the coming days. Mostafa Nakhaei told reporters: "A double-emergency bill will be proposed [to parliament] by the committee to resolve this issue comprehensively."
He acknowledged that most Ministry of Oil employees had not been included in a recent 25 per cent pay rise scheme, with some laborers and specialists even exposed to a pay cut. A new minimum monthly salary of 2.5 million tomans ($99) was considered in the budget for 2021-22 and is set to be implemented from July.
“In this section [of the budget],” Nakhaei added, “it has been emphasized that no salary should be more than 15 times the minimum wage. In the past, this figure was 21 times the minimum wage. This has prevented a high percentage of Ministry of Oil personnel from receiving the 25 percent pay rise, which naturally led to protests."
Contract Workers Dismiss “Unfair” Proposal
The budget reform has been met with mixed reactions from Ministry of Oil personnel, many of whom simply wish to see an end to the temporary sub-contracting of permanent employees.
A contract worker in Asalouyeh County, Bushehr Province, told IranWire that the promised “emergency” reforms would do nothing to support people in his position. “It is not fair for the managers, and those sitting at the top table in Tehran, to take advantage of our dire situation," he said. "Parliament will ignore the huge number of contract workers and amend the budget only in favor of the ‘official’ ones."
"We have always made the shifts, and they have benefitted from them," said another contract worker at the Ilam Petrochemical Plant. "Now that we’re demanding our rights, instead of eliminating the subcontractors, they want to change the budget law to the sole benefit of the ‘official’ workers.
"It’s interesting that solving oil workers' problems, from the point of view of parliamentarians, is solving the problems of those people who already receive 15 or 20 million tomans a month. This is not fair at all."
Iraqi and International Bodies in Solidarity with Iranian Workers
The General Union of Iraqi Oil and Gas Workers has also issued a public statement throwing its weight behind the thousands-strong picketers in Iran, saying it "call[s] for an increase in wages and a response to the other demands of Iranian workers."
In its statement, the union added: "We support the demand for wage increases, and other demands, by those Iranian workers who have been on strike for several days, and condemn the dismissal of 750 striking workers, which is contrary to the International Labor Organization’s Convention No. 87 (the right to organize) of 1947, and Convention No. 98 of 1948".
These international tenets enshrine the rights to freedom of association, to organize and take part in collective bargaining. The Federation of Oil Unions in Iraq has also expressed its support for the movement in Iran, also pointing out: “Our support is despite the fact that the Iranian authorities do not support or recognize unions.
“We call on the Iranian government to recognize the trade union movement in all sectors, and for solidarity with the workers in all governmental and non-governmental sectors. The Iranian workers' protest movement is to attain suitable living conditions. We call on the Iranian government to respond to their demands.
The International Labor Network of Solidarity and Struggle has also publicly declared its support for the striking workers in Iran, decrying the “scandalous” state of workers’ accommodation and backing their demand for 10 days’ rest for every 20 days of work. “In Iran,” the network wrote, “the oil industry is fragmented through numerous subcontracting companies. No contract or precarious contracts are the rule. Workers are exploited.”