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Iran Officials Promise More Leniency Toward Workers But Persecution Continues

Jafar Azimzadeh Iranian Free Labor Union Chairman of the board, Esmail Abdi, former Teacher Union Chairman (Right) Rasoul Bodaghi, Teacher Union & Human Rights Activist following temporary release from prison on July 2016.

Iran's Judiciary Spokesman on Tuesday said they have advised authorities to deal with labor protests leniently while new charges of "propaganda against the regime" were brought against a prominent jailed labor activist.

Speaking about the latest developments in Haft Tapeh Sugar Mill privatization case that has led to labor unrest for the past two years, Gholam-Hossein Esmaili said: "We think that we should deal with labor protests differently than national security cases and those instigated under the influence of foreign countries".

Esmaili cited the acquittal of 14 workers of formerly government-owned HEPCO factory of Arak as an example of the leniency of the Judiciary towards labor protests. However, he emphasized that the sentences passed on the workers of Haft Tapeh Sugar Mill were final and had only been delayed due to the coronavirus epidemic. "We have formed committees to monitor the behavior of the workers whose sentencing has been delayed, he said.

The week of May 1 has been designated as Labor Week in Iran. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who has named the current Iranian year as the Year of Leap in Production on Wednesday delivered a speech to workers of seven factories across the country. In his speech Khamenei said the problems of the working class are significant and the government must work towards resolving them.

Khamenei also maintained that labor regulations must be based on justice and take workers' interests into account. However, he did not make any reference to the specific demands of workers such as a higher minimum wage or the persecution of labor activists by the Judiciary and security forces.

Workers and their unions maintain that low minimum wage is driving them to dire poverty in the current circumstances. The minimum wage set for the current Iranian year (starting March 21) was increased by 21% in early April in comparison with the previous year despite inflation now standing at alarmingly high 38.6 percent.

In recent years Iran's Revolutionary Courts have sentenced many workers, labor activists and union activists to long prison terms and even lashes for their activities.

According to Iran Human Rights News Agency (HRANA), the prosecutors of the Iranian Judiciary on Monday have opened a new case for Jafar Azimzadeh, the Secretary of the Board of Directors of the Free Union of Iranian Workers who has been in prison since January 2019. He has now been charged with "propaganda against the Islamic Republic" in addition to the previous charges of acting against national security.

The Free Trade Union of Workers in Iran reported in April that a member of its board of directors, Ms. Nahid Khodajo, was summoned to Tehran's Evin Prison to serve a sentence, amid the coronavirus crisis.

The coronavirus epidemic has hugely affected Iran's workers. Many have been laid off and others are facing the threat of losing their jobs. An official of the Clothing Manufacturers' Union in Mashhad, Iran's second-largest city, on Wednesday said 80% of workers in clothing factories are likely to lose their jobs as manufacturers' have lost more than 90% of their revenues due to the epidemic.

An official of the Labor House of Qazvin, however, on Wednesday said even some of the manufacturers who have not been affected by the epidemic are also laying off their workers or threatening to lay them off. Eid-Ali Karimi warned about the consequences of the government's failure in stabilizing the prices of basic commodities which could damage the livelihood of workers and their families already hit by the effects of the epidemic.