Support Iraqi workers' call for a democratic labour law

Submitted by martin on 16 November, 2010 - 3:47 Author: Falah Alwan

Falah Alwan is the president of the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions of Iraq. He spoke to international solidarity activists early in November.

The biggest sector in Iraq is the public sector. According to the decrees of the former regime, public sector workers are prohibited from organising. The current Iraqi authorities still impose the same decisions.

Regarding the private sector, there are factories operating outside of even the control of the Ministry of Labour. There are some workplaces operating without any kind of labour law. After 2003 we started organising new unions; we elected new committees and councils. But after 2004/5, after creating the so-called local government, they began enforcing decrees to prevent the workers from organising themselves. Many enterprises overtly and frankly prevent workers from organising themselves, and punish trade unionists within these enterprises.

For example, Shahristani, the Electricity Minister, has clamped down on unions organising in his sector. But they haven't only prevented organisation; they've actively punished trade unionists. Shahristani was also in charge of the oil ministry and played a similar role.

On 17 October, leather workers in Baghdad held a strike calling for security benefit, which was one of the remunerations that the administration has refused to give them. They held a one day strike and the administration agreed to pay the money. In a textile factory in Nasiryah, 1,500 workers have signed a complaint against a manager because of his policies against workers and his failure to come up with a long-term plan for operating the factory. Workers are worried about losing their jobs as production has now stopped. 1,500 out of a total of 1,900 workers have signed their petition. Many factories in Iraq are in the same situation. The management and the Ministry of Industry want to privatise many factories. They claim they are not profitable but this is just a pretext for privatising these factories. So the petition of the workers in Nasiryah is focusing on refusing privatisation. We have many examples that are similar to this factory.

In Basra, after the decisions of Shahristani, the Ministry of Electricity issued new orders to punish workers who were involved in unions. We have copies of those orders.

In factories 30km south of Baghdad, which include thousands of workers, you find conditions like those of the 19th century. It is very dangerous to work there. Workers are working without any insurance at all. The owners of the factories refuse to employ workers who have insurance or who join unions! We have received complaints from hundreds of workers. As a union we are demanding that the owners of the companies give these rights to workers.

In the Gas Company of Basra, I spoke to the president of the union there. He spoke about foreign investment in the sector and how several companies, including the Gas Company and the Southern Oil Company, are working together in agreement with the Iraqi authorities to prevent the unionisation of the public sector. There are also reports of huge wage differentials between workers employed by new foreign investors and the Iraqi workers who were already working there. That was the cause of huge protests amongst the workers, demanding the same opportunities for Iraqi workers to work.

Workers in the health sector in Sulemaniyah tried to organise their own independent union, but the official union and the authorities prevented them. They're trying to impose the same decrees as the Saddam era.

Lack of security is becoming a very important issue. For workers who want to organise demonstrations or strikes, this is becoming a more important issue. A large number of the victims of terrorist attacks, especially in the private sector, received no compensation fro the authorities because of this. The role of the security is very bad; it diverts the attention of the workers from fighting for their rights to only being able to think about safety and security. It is the workers who are the main victims of terror – not the authorities or the leaders of government parties.

We need international solidarity to prevent the authorities from intervening and imposing their hegemony on the workers' movement. The authorities want to impose a new labour law which would disregard workers' interests. The draft is worse than the one that existed in the Saddam era! We want a labour law that includes freedom of organisation; this is the main and most important issue for us. We need a very strong international solidarity campaign to put the Iraqi authorities under pressure.

Sending letters, writing petitions and collecting petitions will put pressure on the authorities. It would be good to send those petitions to the ILO to ask them to consider the Iraqi representatives at the ILO as illegal. It will be a good opportunity to highlight the state of so-called democracy in Iraq. On our side, it's difficult to organise mass actions against the authorities. That's a reality because of the security situation. It would also be good to send petitions and demonstrate against Iraqi embassies in your own countries.

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