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Steel Workers Freed As Trade Union Calls It A ‘Hostage Taking’

Iranian steel workers protesting in the southern city of Ahvaz for unpaid wages. March 2017

After six days of detention, eight workers from the Iran National Steel Industrial Group (INSIG) were released on bail on March 6, reported the website of the Iran Free Trade Union (IFTU).

Nine INSIG workers were detained on March 1, and one was released two days later.

In a statement, the IFTU described the workers’ detention as “hostage taking” by the private owner of the steel mill and security forces of Ahvaz, southwestern Iran, to force the workers to continue working without their overdue wages being paid.

Nearly 4,000 INSIG workers have been on strike for more than two weeks. They are demanding two months’ delayed wages and bonuses.

“The workers are expecting the employer to pay their rightful claims, and they have no work to do due to a lack of financial resources and the raw materials needed for production,” said Ahmed Shajirati, a labor official for Khuzestan Province, on March 3.

The head of the judiciary in the province, Farhad Afsharnia, however, said the protests “do not comply with the law” and said, “Our patience is limited, and if the protest assemblies persist, we have to deal with the other workers, as well.”

This statement shows that the trade union claim of "hostage taking" by authorities is not too much off the mark.

Speaking to the state-run Iran Students News Agency (ISNA), Afsharnia said that officials have heard the workers’ complaints and “continued protests are not right.”

Without referring to the delayed wages or poor living conditions, Afsharnia said, “A company can pay its staff and workers their salaries only when they have production.”

In recent years, hundreds of workers have been detained for demanding delayed wages and unfulfilled rights across Iran.

However, in the heat of momentous labor protests over delayed salaries and a debate over a minimum wage, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused “enemies” of fomenting discord among Iran’s work force.

“One of the major activities of our enemies has been to create a recession and obstacles in our factories and among our groups of laborers -- particularly the big ones -- so they can provoke the workers,” Khamenei said on February 5.

He praised Iranian workers for their firm support of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, saying, “Our workers have always stood firm. They have always rejected the enemy in an insightful manner.”

The “enemy,” as a rule, is a word used by Iranian authorities to denote the United States or Israel.

Without reference to the current widespread labor protests or the fact that many labor activists were arrested, forced into exile, or executed during the 1980s, Khamenei maintained, “Anti-revolutionaries have failed to agitate workers against the Islamic Republic.”

Iranian workers have argued that the official monthly minimum wage is not even enough to cover 10 days of expenses.

The current monthly minimum wage in Iran is roughly $200 and was set two years ago. The independent trade unions say $1,050 per month is needed for the Minimum Expenditure Basket (MEB), defined by the United Nations as goods a household requires to meet basic needs.

Furthermore, according to labor activists, the protracted nonpayment of workers’ salaries is one of the major problems facing Iranian workers. The problem has led to labor unrest in various parts of Iran.