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Sugar Cane Factory Workers Launch Collective Strike

Haft Tapeh: Strike in Haft Tapeh Sugar Factory

Workers at the Haft Tapeh sugar cane plantation and mill company have collectively gone on strike since the morning of January 7, the Free Labor Union of Iran (FLUI) reports.

In a statement on its Telegram channel, FLUI said, “All workers at Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Company stopped working at all divisions of the factory at 9 a.m. Sunday to protest unfulfilled promises delivered by their employer.”

In recent months, Haft Tapeh workers have been protesting and going on strikes periodically. The latest strike was on December 9. Now, it appears all workers from different parts of the company have gone on strike.

Furthermore, several workers prevented sugar cane from being transferred into the plant.

The management of the factory, owned by the private sector, had promised in December to mete out justice and address workers’ demands within two weeks.

The owner of the company had also promised to dismiss his associate, Siamak Afshar.

The new strike was launched after none of the management’s promises was fulfilled.

Haft Tapeh was established years before the 1979 revolution and used to be a lucrative business.

Following nationalization after the 1979 revolution, the company was sold to the private sector in 2015 and its operations began to go downhill.

In an open letter dated October 8, 2017, thousands of Haft Tapeh workers had complained that since the March 2016 sale of the sugarcane company to the private sector they had “more than one year of suffering and anguish…we have been able to receive our wages only through protests and gatherings”.

The International Union of Food and Allied Workers (IUF) in a statement on December 4, commented on the situation, saying, “Haft Tapeh workers have always had to fight for their wages and pensions and their rights. In 2008, workers formed an independent union -- affiliated with the IUF -- following a 42-day strike to demand longstanding wage arrears. In June this year, the workers again held work stoppages and demonstrations to demand payment of wage arrears of up to four months.”

Insisting that the only way to save the complex is returning its ownership to the public sector, the workers have also maintained, “Since the transfer of ownership to the present owners, the company’s debts have increased, with the employer only thinking of reducing the permanent work force.”

Accusing the government of supporting the wealthy, the workers have complained they have become poorer while the managers of the complex have become richer.

President Hassan Rouhani’s administration has rejected the proposal to return the mill to the public sector.

Moreover, 304 sugar cane harvesters affiliated with the company, who are not entitled to pensions, are no longer insured since the company’s owners argue their jobs are limited to a particular season and therefore not permanent.

Earlier in 2014, the cane cutters were promised 250 billion rials (roughly $7 million) as compensation for the premiums the company used to pay for coverage by the state-run Public Insurance and Welfare Organization.

The promise was also not fulfilled since there is a dispute over the sum of the compensation between the government and the company’s owners.

The Geneva-based IUF also maintains that the privatization of the Haft Tapeh industrial complex has been detrimental to workers’ rights. “Conditions at Haft Tapeh have worsened since the company was privatized in a murky 2015 privatization deal. Pension benefits have been suspended due to the company's failure to pay into the state social-security scheme,” it said.