Protests against unpaid salaries, unfair dismissal and poor working conditions continue in Khuzestan province after renewed anger erupted in early September. Laborers, telecommunications company employees and city council workers for Kut Abdollah Municipality are among those demanding their rights to be upheld.
The Kut Abdollah protests erupted several days ago, with employees gathering outside the council building to express anger that their wages remain unpaid. Railway workers in Ahvaz, also fed up with not being paid, and former employees of the city’s executive office who faced dismissal have also joined together to hold the government and employers to account.
Protests have resumed at Haft-Tappeh Sugarcane Company, the site of fierce demonstrations in 2018 after a decline in management standards and a rise in corruption over a number of years.
Eleven Months of Salary Arrears for Ahvaz City Train Workers
The former contractor responsible for building the railway infrastructure in the city of Ahvaz has not paid its workers for at least 11 months. "We worked on the Ahvaz city project from 2013 to September 2020 under Kayson Contracting Company in various roles, including as guards, warehouse workers, machinery and generator maintenence, and draining water from the workshop. But when the contractor's agreement ended, we were not paid, and we have not yet received the arrears."
The former employees also say that Kayson has not paid social security insurance premiums since December 2020. The Ahvaz Urban Train Organization signed a new employment contract with a new company after the previous contract was terminated.
"Despite the departure of the former contractor, the city train officials — the main employers — take no responsibility to pay the workers, and so the workers have suffered the most. No official in the province has yet met our demands."
Another worker said: "Activities on the Ahvaz city train project stopped in the winter of 2019. Now that the Kayson Company has been ousted as the contractor, it refuses to hand over the workshop and equipment to the new contractor. The municipality has complained to the judicial authorities and is waiting for the court's decision so that they can drive the company out."
He said that since workers have not been paid, they have held protests every few months, with the most recent one taking place on Saturday, September 18. Various officials have promised to look after the workers who remain on the project, but to date, nothing has been done.
"The lack of money and the precarious situation for workers in Ahvaz has created huge problems for them and their families,” he added.
He pointed to Kayson Company’s gross mismanagement while it was overseeing the railline construction project in Ahvaz. "The lack of progress led to the contractor’s dismissal on September 20, 2020. We, the workers, demand that the managing director of Ahvaz city trains, as the actual employer, finance the construction and pay our wages. We expected arrears to be paid before the former contractor left. If the problems continue, why did they change the contractor?"
Confusion at Haft-Tappeh Sugarcane Company
The Haft-Tappeh Sugarcane Company was once the shining light in ambitious development plans to overhaul Khuzestan’s economy. But in recent years, it has been the hub of massive economic failings and scandals and the cause of some of Iranian workers’ most profound malaise and anger. The endemic problems, exacerbated in part by the company’s successive owners, has prompted calls for it to be handed over to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance.
"This issue has been raised in the courts for some time,” the first deputy of parliament's committee on social affairs said recently. "According to the information at our disposal, the judiciary has finalized its ruling to return Haft-Tappeh to the economy ministry."
He said company shareholders, members of parliament and Haft-Tappeh executives shared workers’ concerns and understood how important the issue was for them. For that reason, he said, the company and its shares will be returned to the ministry. Whether this was to be a definitive, permanent transfer or not had yet to be determined, and the parliamentarian said this would be decided over the course of the next one to two weeks.
When asked about the current owner of the company, he said: "The issue will be set out in law. The owner has not paid the value of the company shares, which is estimated to be more than 8 or 9 thousand billion tomans [between US$295 and $330 million]. He has paid 4.50 billion tomans [$155 million] on account. So he will be paid for a sort of instalment purchase."
Further to this, the member of parliament for the northern Khuzestan constituency of Shush announced in a tweet: "The new board of directors of Haft-Tappeh Company will be introduced by next week at the latest. The management of the company will be handed over to the ministry of the economy."
Khuzestan Telecommunication Company Employees Banned from Returning to Work
Employees of telecommunication companies in various cities across Khuzestan province are still unable to return to work. "We have not been willing to sign a contract since the beginning of this year [March 2021] because we want an end to discrimination, a strict implementation of the job classification scheme, and to sign a direct contract with our employers."
Telecommunication employees further reported: "During a meeting with the governor, the province’s security council, the labor department, and the representative for the Aval Service Company, who traveled from Tehran, we agreed to return to work without signing a contract and the employer agreed to amend the contracts. This was a few days ago. But when we went to work, they would not let us in. Their excuse is that they have not received a written letter [to confirm the situation].”
"Our demands are completely reasonable and in line with legal requirements and we hope they will honor their promises," the employee said. “We all want to go back to work with new contracts."
Fired Ahvaz Municipality Employees Demonstrate
On Monday, September 20, 2021, former employees for the Ahvaz Municipality Executive Department gathered outside the city council for the seventh time since their dismissal. The first demonstration was a direct response to their dismissal letter, and took place on September 4. For the latest protest, the group of 96 workers set up onion and potato stalls as a symbolic gesture to show the serious consequences of their ongoing unemployment: food poverty.
"How did the city council and the municipality pay the salaries of 630 unidentified people from the city's revenue sources, and at the same time issue a letter dismissing homeless workers and leaving dozens of families in difficulty?” one of the workers who lost his job demanded to know.
In response to that particular example of mismanagement and corruption, the chair of the Ahvaz city council said: "630 people in the Ahvaz municipality receive a monthly salary. But it is not at all clear where they are and whether they are actually working there.”
Given that the council admits its incompetencies, and in light of bad management in factories, city-led projects and local government across the province, it is no wonder their employees and former employees feel they have no option but to make their grievances public as often as they can. They may face reprisals, but many of them would argue it’s not as bad as losing their livelihoods.
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