As protests continue at a steel plant in Ahvaz, security forces have arrested more than ten worker activists overnight.
Iran’s Free Trade Union reports that security forces conducted overnight raids on homes of steel mill workers and detained ten people. The arrest warrants were issued by Ahvaz prosecutor’s office. Ahvaz is the center of the oil-producing Khuzestan province.
As a move to further intimidate the workers, a police intelligence unit has contacted many workers and has asked them for their addresses.
Prior to these arrests, hundreds of National Steel Industrial Group employees in Ahvaz again had assembled in front of the governor-general’s office March 1 to demand overdue wages.
The workers have not been paid for the past three months, and say they hold the former owner of the industrial complex, the National Bank of Iran, “responsible for the livelihood crisis imposed on laborers,” the Iran Free Trade Union reported.
The protesters had earlier called for the dismissal of the current owner of the complex, Iranian tycoon, Abdolreza Mousavi, and the resignation of regional Governor-General Gholamreza Shariati.
Governor Shariati said February 21 that the owner had transferred the workers’ overdue wages from November, and they would be paid “within two or three days,” however the workers say this promise has not yet been fulfilled.
Meanwhile, Mousavi lashed out on his Instagram page, accusing “several malicious individuals” of fomenting unrest among the Ahvaz laborers.
Ahvaz National Steel Industrial Group, a lucrative complex established in 1967 during the Shah’s reign, has recently witnessed widespread protests over wage arrears among its nearly 4,000-strong workforce.
The steel complex was privatized after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and later sold in a murky transaction to Amir Mansour Aria, aka Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, who was executed in 2011 on charges of embezzling nearly $1 billion.
The company was then transferred by the court to the National Bank of Iran, and in October 2017, the bank sold the complex to Mousavi, who also owns a major soccer club in Ahvaz and two hotels on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf, and is the managing director of Zargos Airlines.
Some workers told the Jame’eh Now (New Society) news website that several of their colleagues have been arrested by the factory’s security and other security organizations for demanding back pay. The website quoted workers as saying that most of them are in debt because they have no other source of income. Some have had their accounts closed by their banks for failure to pay service fees, and they are without health insurance, as the company has stopped paying their premiums.
Protracted delays in wage payments are a common problem for workers in Iran, according to labor activists, and one that has lead to labor unrest in different parts of the country
Construction workers in the northwestern city of Urmia who say they have not been paid in the last year, also held a protest March 1, according to the Iran Free Trade Union. Earlier, steel mill workers in Urmia rallied in front of the governor-general’s office February 26 demanding delayed wages.
The state-run Iran Labor News Agency, ILNA, has also reported that scores of retired employees of Central Alborz Coal in the northern Mazandaran province assembled February 28 in the city of Zeerab to demand their overdue pensions.
Similar labor protests have erupted in the cities of Shahr-e Kord and Gachsaran.
In another development, ILNA reported February 28 that a sugar cane mill worker in the city of Haft Tapeh in the Khuzestan province who was deeply in debt after months without being paid his wages committed suicide.
The report said the worker drowned himself in a nearby water canal, and accused the mill’s public relations office of attempting to conceal the circumstances leading up to the man’s suicide.
The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has accused “foreign enemies” of stoking discord among Iranian workers.