Striking Iranian Sugar Plant Workers Add Colleagues’ Freedom to List of Demands
More than three years into ongoing strikes for unpaid wages and benefits, workers of Iran’s biggest sugar plant are now also calling for their imprisoned colleagues’ freedom.
Hundreds of workers of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-industrial Complex in the city of Shush, southwestern Iran, attended a fifth consecutive day of demonstrations on September 27, 2019, to protest the expulsion of about 20 of their colleagues and imprisonment of seven others under lengthy sentences.
A video posted on the workers’ trade union channel on the Telegram messaging app, called the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-industrial Complex Labor Syndicate, showed the strikers chanting, “They have arrested Esmail. We are all Bakhshis.”
Trade union representative Esmail Bakhshi was sentenced in September 2019 by a preliminary court to 14 years in prison and 74 lashes under “national security” charges for leading workers’ rallies for unpaid wages and stating publicly that he had been tortured in the custody of the Intelligence Ministry.
Iran is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which mandates in Articles 21 and 22 freedom of association and guarantees the right to form trade unions, and to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which guarantees in Article 8 the right of workers to form or join trade unions and protects their right to strike.
Yet peaceful labor activism is treated as a national security offense, independent labor unions are not allowed to function, strikers are often fired and risk arrest, and labor leaders are prosecuted under catchall national security charges and sentenced to long prison terms.
Six other labor activists and reporters were also imprisoned after being tried with Bakhshi at Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran presided by notorious hardline Judge Mohammad Moghiseh.
The workers are also currently demanding the reinstatement of several colleagues who were expelled or denied contract renewals for allegedly joining the protests.
They include Reza Pourchenani, Saheb Zahriri, Mahmoud Sa’di, Adel Abdolkhani, Mohammad Abdolkhani, Samir Ahmadi, Hamzeh Alekasir, Iman Akhzari, Karim Mayahi, Fazel Chabizadeh, Ashkan Goudarzi, Masoud Loyami and Mohammad Khanifar.
Khanifar, who was a co-tried with Bakhshi, was issued a six-year prison sentence.
“Today [September 23] all the workers of the internal sections of the company, such as the mechanical equipment office and the infrastructure affairs office, stopped work in support of their colleagues and gathered in front of the company’s management office to protest this ugly anti-labor action,” said a statement posted on the workers’ channel.
“The Haft Tappeh Workers Union condemns the expulsion of honorable, dedicated workers and demands the return to work of all these dear ones,” added the statement.
On September 26, one of the striking workers, Yousef Bahmani, was summoned to the Intelligence Ministry’s office in Shush, according to the channel.
The state-funded Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported on September 25 that “about 300 hundred” workers who had participated in the strikes returned to their jobs without achieving their demands.
“One of the workers told ILNA that the expelled workers had gone to the city’s Labor Ministry office to complain about their situation but so far no action has been taken to reinstate them.”
Read this article in Persian.