Haft-Tappeh workers protesting in Shush, November 19, 2018. (Supplied)

July 13, 2021

More than a dozen strikes and rallies broke out across Iran over the weekend, with workers and retirees in different sectors of the Iranian economy demanding payments of wage arrears, changes to their contractual situation and an end to Iran’s electricity crisis.

Four separate demonstrations took place in Khuzestan alone, encompassing hundreds of workers at the Haft-Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-Industry Company, farmers and water board staff. The Haft Tappeh workers were protesting the non-renewal of their contracts for the 15th consecutive day.

Elsewhere in the country retirees in Rasht and Isfahan, bakers across three separate provinces, telecoms workers, Tehran Metro staff and bus and taxi drivers all downed tools to express their anguish at the current working conditions.

The protests come in addition to a nationwide strike by oil and gas workers that has affected at least 50 facilities in Iran over the past fortnight. The below is a round-up of what we know about all the demonstrations that unfolded over Saturday and Sunday.

Retirees and Pensioners in Rasht and Isfahan

Retired former employees of the Iranian Social Security Organization gathered in front of the  General Office of Social Security in Rasht, Gilan province on Sunday, July 11.

The pensioners were calling for improved payments and legal conditions so as to meet their basic needs in old age. Beneficiaries of the Isfahan Steel Pension Fund gathered for a similar rally in front of the Social Security building in Isfahan, also on Sunday.

Bakers Protest Impossible Cashflow Situation

Bakery workers in the north-western city of Mashhad gathered in front of their own union offices on Sunday to express fury at low incomes and poor workplace conditions, as well as eye-watering insurance costs during a period of economic recession.

Inflation in Iran stood at more than 30 percent last year, astronomically increasing bread production costs and forcing many bakers to either hike their prices or lose money. Government subsidies were cut at the end of 2020 and Iranian bakers are now dealing with continuous power cuts, leading to huge batches of dough being spoiled.

Bakers in Qazvin also held a rally in front of the provincial governor’s office on Saturday, July 10, protesting the high costs of insurance and water, electricity and gas. “We get paid 80 to 100 tomans a day and have no protection,” one said.

Workers in many bakeries in the city of Nishapur, Razavi Khorasan province, also took part in mass walkouts on Saturday in protest against low wages.

Sewage Workers Demand Back Payments

Water and sewage treatment workers from the Azadegan Plain in Khuzestan province held a protest on Sunday to highlight months of non-payment of wages. Wage arrears at local plants have been a recurring problem since last year, with several demonstrations held in the past 12 months.

In May some of the employees received two months’ worth of back payments. But the rest of the money owed to them is still outstanding.

Kut-Abdollah Municipality Staff Continue Strikes

Workers in the deprived Kut-Abdollah municipality in Khuzestan province have been on strike since the June 22, also over the non-payment of wages. Those on the picket line on Sunday said they were still owed wages from June.

“Neither does the contractor pay our salaries, nor does the municipality pay attention to our demands,” one of the workers said. “We have rallied many times in front of the municipality [offices] and the Prosecutor’s Office, but so far no official has addressed our problems.”

Municipal workers in Kut-Abdollah are also still waiting for their wages from November and December 2020 to arrive in their accounts, as well as their New Year bonus for March 2021.

Telecoms Workers in Razavi Khorasan Hold Demonstrations

The employees of rural telecoms providers in Razavi Khorasan gathered in front of the main Provincial Labor Office in Mashhad on Saturday to demand an end to shoddy insurance practices in their sector.

Earlier this year, protests broke out within the same firms against the alleged non-payment of insurance premiums and non-renewal of insurance agreements. Workers reported not having received the promised payments for healthcare despite this being promised in their contracts.

“Unfortunately,” representatives of the telecoms staff said, “we have witnessed many occasions of the non-payment of insurance premiums by the Telecommunications Company of Iran. A vulnerable segment of society has suffered a great deal of pressure; people have been charged a lot of extra money for medical treatment care.

“Every month, the providers’ share for insurance premiums is deducted from our salaries. But the insurance is not renewed for various reasons, including ‘lack of liquidity’ and other irrelevancies.”

The protesters’ main demand was the implementation of Article 86 of Iran’s Budget Law, which ought to oblige the Iranian telecoms sector to adhere to and renew insurance contracts with workers in accordance with the terms of the Labor Law.

Cement Workers Laid Off by Power Outages

Workers at the Payvand Cement Factory in Golestan province took to the streets in protest after power outages prompted the firm to announce hundreds of on-the-spot redundancies.

The PR department on the Golestan province-based firm said in a recent statement: “Due to the recent electricity restrictions, and with the notification of the relevant authorities, production at this cement factory has been completely stopped.”

The facility is the only one of its kind in the whole of Golestan and normally produces 3,300 tons of cement a day. Apart from the factory itself having faced “irreparable damage” from the power cuts, the company said it would be laying off 400 people at a stroke.

Rural Farmers Decry Water Shortages

On Saturday, July 10, farmers and ranchers from Hoveyzeh County in Khuzestan stood outside Khuzestan governor’s office to air their grievances over the repeated droughts racking the province.

Those present raised particular concerns about the drying-up of the Hur-al Azim river, which is having a devastating effect on local wildlife and has forced many in the local agricultural community to sell their buffalo.

Bus Drivers Down Tools Over Delta Variant

Unionized workers at the Vahed (United) Bus Company also took part in strike action over the lack of measures in place to protect drivers from the hyper-infectious Delta variant of coronavirus, which is now running rampant in Iran.

A post on the syndicate’s Telegram channel read: “Despite the red alert in Tehran, the closure of business districts and travel bans at the exits and entrances to Tehran due to the outbreak of the Delta variant, the drivers of Vahed and the BRT [the city’s Bus Rapid Transit system] are not vaccinated and continue to provide services to the citizens of Tehran. Not one official has considered saving the lives of these hard-working drivers and their families.”

Tehran Municipality has government permission to temporarily keep up to 50 percent of its employees at home in order to curb the spread of Covid-19. But, the union said, “not only have drivers of Vahed Bus Company, who are municipal personnel and on the front line of this pandemic, not benefitted from this measure, but no action has been taken to vaccinate them by either the management of the company or the municipality.”

Metro Workers Enraged at Contract and Salary Hold-Ups

Staff working on Line 5 of the Tehran Metro, which covers 12 stations between the districts of Sadeghieh and Golshahr, held a rally on Saturday in front of the head office in Tehran’s Enghelab Avenue.

The demonstrations focused on job insecurity and the non-payment of wages, with some participants claiming not to have been paid for four months straight. Line 5 workers are on temporary contracts, meaning they can be fired at will, and participants also called for their contracts to either be renewed or made permanent.

Taxi Drivers’ Sit-in in Marivan

Taxi drivers with Line 8, a cab company in Marivan, took part in a sit-in at the firm’s offices on Saturday over a lack of maintenance on their vehicles they say they have been asking for for years.

Eighteen drivers took part in the sit-in, representing others in the firm. “According to the minutes of the Traffic Council’s meetings,” one told ILNA, “and despite even the orders of the Marivan Prosecutor’s Office to solve the problem, the organization has done nothing yet.”

Khorramshahr Municipality Workers’ Partial Success

Also at the weekend, the mayor of the port city of Khorramshahr in Khuzestan province announced that garbage collectors on strike over unpaid wages had had their demands partially met after six months of sporadic industrial action.

In total, Mansour Alvani said, an additional 10 billion tomans (US$400,000) had been secured for the workers and “just 10 percent” of their salaries now remained unpaid.

He added: “We agreed with the workers that the arrears from 2020-2021 should be paid first, then a part of the arrears from this year will be settled. The salaries have been transferred to the workers’ accounts and they returned to work last night.”

Night shift workers were said to be cleaning up the most densely-populated areas of the city, such as the Taleghani neighborhood, after piles of garbage built up during the strikes.

Iran Wire

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Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.