The Iranian government appears to have given in to one of the demands made by hundreds of truck drivers who have been on strike since Tuesday May 22, bringing the transportation of fuel, foodstuff and other commodities to a standstill in several provinces.
The drivers called for an increase in trucking fees, which they say have not changed for many years, and a rise in their minimum wage as well as demanding changes to their pension and insurance premium.
There are three types of truckers in Iran; those who fully own their trucks and others who still have to pay for their trucks to government-controlled companies in instalments for years. Still others, a minority, work for truck owners.
Most of the time, truck drivers find themselves working for the government, the biggest importer and distributor of strategic commodities, particularly fuel and foodstuff, based on a daily wage, or fee per kilometer.
Deputy Road Minister Darioush Amani told Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) on Wednesday May 23 that “average moving charges will rise by 15 to 20% starting from Saturday May 26.”
Following this announcement, it appears that the strike has largely ended, but it is difficult to obtain precise information from Iran.
Amani admitted that the truck drivers’ demands were “reasonable” since “the price of spare parts have risen in past years, while transport charges remained fixed.”
“Moving charges has been fixed for years; government has refused to raise the tariffs while the price of spare parts and insurance premium the drivers pay to the Social Security and Welfare Organization have increased on a daily basis,” ILNA cited a truck driver based in the city of Noshahr by the Caspian Sea as saying.
“In several provinces, the Roads and Transport Ministry has cut nearly four tons off the weight of cargoes each truck is legally allowed to carry, which has been translated into less profit for the truck owners and drivers,” said another driver.
The government’s response came in as the strike gained momentum on its second day on Wednesday.
Nevertheless, drivers in many places including Fars Province are still not satisfied with the solution, “some demanding a rise of more than 20% in moving charges,” said Mohammad Khan Bolouki, chairman of the Iranian Truck Drivers’ Union.
Speaking on behalf of Roads and Transportation Ministry, Amani also acknowledged that the drivers’ other demands regarding their minimum wages, insurance premium and pension still remain unmet.
He promised that these issues would be addressed within the next month.
During the strike, the drivers refused to load their trucks and stopped others who carried on moving various commodities around, sometimes using violence.
The strike started in the provinces of Eastern Azarbaijan, and soon spread to Lorestan, Mazandaran, Fars and Qazvin provinces.
Since many truck drivers refused to distribute fuel, the strike has reportedly caused petrol shortages in some areas across Iran, forcing scores of gas stations to close down.
Meanwhile opposition leaders including Mujahedin-e Khalq (MeK) leader Maryam Rajavi, and Prince Reza Pahlavi, Iran’s last crown prince expressed support for the drivers on strike. Ms. Rajavi called on the people to lend their support to the strikers and Prince Reza Pahlavi in a tweet described the strike “a turning point in the peaceful political struggle of Iranian people.”
Economist Ahmad Alavi wrote in a commentary for Radio Farda, “There has been a significant rise in the price of goods and services needed by drivers as a result of the sharp decline in the value of the Iranian currency rial. It is obvious that the government supports lower transportation costs in order to keep the overall cost of distribution of goods and to prevent more inflation. But the government is doing so at the expenses of truck drivers and owners.”
Alavi observed that “The truck drivers’ strike is still a symbolic move to find a way to open dialogue with the government. So, we still have not seen its real impact. But if this strike paralyzes the transportation industry, then its impact would spread to other industries.”
Alavi maintained that “like the other parts of Iran’s economy, the problems of the transportation industry, are not simply economic and it is largely affected by political factors including the international tensions Iran’s foreign policy is currently facing.”