Rouhani Promises to Withdraw Anti-Labor Amendments While Police Quash Peaceful Protests
During a ceremony marking International Labor Day on May 1, 2017, President Hassan Rouhani, who will be running for re-election on May 19, pledged to withdraw an amendment to the Labor Law that was opposed by trade unionists.
Meanwhile, the police blocked a separate ceremony organized by independent labor organizations in Tehran, arresting one activist.
“We will take the interests of workers into consideration,” he said. “We will take your security into consideration—your job security that is.”
The bill was first introduced to Parliament before the end of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s second term in 2013. However, it stalled following outcry by trade unionists arguing it gives employers too much power.
While Rouhani spoke at the ceremony at Imam Khomeini’s mausoleum complex in southern Tehran, police blocked workers from gathering for an event planned in front of Parliament by independent labor groups.
One activist, Valiollah Zamani, was arrested, according to a labor activist who asked not to be identified for security reasons.
“We were planning to have a peaceful gathering, but the police carrying batons and shields blocked the way, surrounded the workers and confiscated their signs and banners,” the source told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on May 1.
“They also took away the phones of a couple of workers who were taking pictures and gave them back after deleting the images,” said the source.
“After he was arrested, Valiollah Zamani was taken to the City Park detention center and we don’t know if he has been released or if they booked him,” added the source. “His phone has been turned off.”
The source continued: “As in previous years, the Intelligence Ministry and the judiciary started early and issued summons and detained labor activists in the days leading up to May 1.”
“Six workers were arrested at the Haft Tappeh sugar cane plant on April 26 and summoned to a court in Dezful (Khuzestan Province) on charges of ‘propaganda against the state,’ and another labor activist was summoned in Sanandaj (Kurdestan Province),” said the source.
The source also told CHRI that Rouhani’s promise to withdraw the amendments would not satisfy labor activists’ previous demands.
“There’s an election coming up and withdrawing the anti-labor amendments would be a positive step, but it’s not enough,” said the activist. “Workers must be allowed to organize, strike and gather according to the law.”
“The Rouhani administration must end the arrest of trade union activists on security charges,” added the source. “The Islamic Republic does not allow workers to hold a gathering even one day out of the year and then the officials all brag about defending workers’ rights.”
Several of the six presidential candidates running in May have reached out to workers to win their votes.
Mostafa Mir-Salim announced his candidacy in a workers’ uniform while Ebrahim Raisi told workers at a Labor Day event in the city of Qazvin that, if elected, he would tackle “many problems and unemployment facing workers in industrial cities.”
The labor activist who spoke to CHRI said the biggest issue facing workers and teachers was being treated as a security threat for making peaceful demands for improved conditions and benefits.
“Throwing labor activists into prison and charging them with security crimes is the most serious problem that has been going on under every government,” said the source. “But under Rouhani, activists have been handed 10-15 year prison sentences, which shows the situation has become worse.”
“The sentences are issued by the judiciary, but most of the arrests are carried out by the Intelligence Ministry,” added the source.
Continued the source: “We are not happy with Rouhani’s failure to open up the climate for lawful labor organizations, but the other candidates don’t have a better record.”
During Rouhani’s first presidential term, which began in 2013, several activists fighting for the rights of workers and teachers were arrested and prosecuted, including Esmail Abdi, the former secretary general of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association, who went on hunger strike on April 30 to demand an end to the persecution of peaceful labor activists.
“Is it a crime to protest the plunder of public funds, especially the teachers’ pension fund? Is national security threatened by teachers peacefully walking in a park? Is it a crime to collect signatures to oblige the government to implement the law? Should the law apply only to the people, or government officials as well?” he wrote.