“Suffering” Iranian Retirees Joining Nationwide Protests Against Chronic State Failures
On January 10, 2021, Iranian retirees gathered in front of government buildings in at least 19 cities including–Tehran, Mashhad, Isfahan, and Yazd–to protest the government’s lack of response to their demands.
The protesters, who receive retirement checks from the State Welfare Organization’s (SWO) pension fund, chanted slogans against state policies and officials at well-organized rallies.
According to official statistics published by the state-funded Mehr News Agency in June 2020, more than three million retirees are currently on the SWO’s payroll. This group has been particularly vulnerable to the country’s economic struggles due to international sanctions and corruption and mismanagement of state funds.
“The main characteristic of this protest is that there is total coordination throughout the country and agreement on a statement on the demands of retired citizens,” said one of the participants, who attended the January 10 protest in Mashhad, in an interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
The first demand in the 10-point statement, issued on January 5, 2021, is a 50 percent increase in retirement pensions “given this year’s runaway inflation.”
“We have repeatedly written letters to the authorities but they have done nothing except make promises that have never materialized; a mirage.”
The current wave of retiree protests began on December 13, 2020, with the state-funded Iranian Labor News Agency reporting gatherings in Tehran (in front of Parliament), Tabriz, Mashhad, Isfahan, Rasht, Yazd, Bojnourd, Khorramabad, Ilam, Ahvaz and Arak.
The report said two legislators met with the protesters in front of Parliament to hear their grievances. The protesters also presented a letter addressed to Parliament Speaker Mohammad Ghalibaf.
In the current Iranian year, which began on March 21, 2020, the government promised to increase the minimum monthly salary of civil servants by 70 percent to 2.8 million tomans (approximately $664 USD). Certain steps have also been taken to increase the pension of retirees, Tasnim reported in August 2020.
Previously, retirees held protests in Tehran and a number of provincial capitals to mark “Social Welfare Day” on July 15, 2020, and said in a statement that, “Our appeal to honorable retirees for participation in street gatherings is a demonstration of bravery at a time when our patience has run out under astronomical inflationary pressures.”
What are the retirees demanding?
An examination of statements published by the retirees include the following demands:
- Enforce the law on adjusting retirement pensions
- Provide seasonal pension adjustments to compensate for rapid increases in inflation
- Settle the government’s debt to the SWO pension fund to ensure uninterrupted benefit payments
- Combine civilian and military pension funds
- Fairly assess pensions for all retirees regardless of the employer
- Incorporate retiree representatives into SWO management
- Offer shares of the SWO’s investment arm to retirees
- Strictly enforce the law requiring the SWO to reimburse medical expenses and provide retirees disability benefits
The government currently owes more than 340 trillion tomans (approximately $80.8 billion USD) to the SWO’s pension fund, due to its failure to replenish its coffers.
A retired person who attended the December 14 protest in front of Parliament told CHRI: “It seems like the authorities are finding it very hard to see the suffering of retired people and how their lives have fallen below the poverty line. But we have no choice but to participate in protests and shout out our problems even during the pandemic.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of being punished by state forces for speaking publicly on the issue the retiree added: “Many of us have lived a respectable life, despite taking other jobs in our retirement years to feed our family. But now there are so many unemployed young people these days that we don’t have many opportunities to find second or third jobs. So we have no other choice but to join street demonstrations and rallies.”
Read this article in Persian.