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Union Implores ILO To Help Free Jailed Labor Leaders

Jafar Azimzadeh, Secretary of the Board of the Free Workers Trade Union of Iran and Parvin Mohammadi (L), Deputy Secretary of the Board of the Free Trade Union of Iran Workers
Jafar Azimzadeh, Secretary of the Board of the Free Workers Trade Union of Iran and Parvin Mohammadi (L), Deputy Secretary of the Board of the Free Trade Union of Iran Workers

In an open letter to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the Free Union of Iranian Workers (FUIW) pleaded with ILO Director-General Guy Ryder to support Iranian workers and demand the release of jailed labor activists.

In the letter, the FUIW told Ryder, a British scientist and union organizer, that a new wave of labor suppression is underway in Iran.

Among those recently taken into custody in a sweep of arrests following months of strikes and workers’ protests are Jafar Azimzadeh, a gas pipe fitter and secretary of the board of the FUIW, and Ms. Parvin Mohammadi, FUIW vice president.The two were arrested within hours of each other January 29.

Azimzadeh has been incarcerated in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, where he is serving a six-year sentence for “actions against national security” and “propaganda against the [Islamic Republic] establishment,” while Ms. Mohammadi is being held at Evin incommunicado without being charged.

"The new verdict against Azimzadeh was issued despite the fact that he had already been acquitted for those charges by another court," Azimzadeh's legal counsel Mohammad Ali Jedari Foroughi told Radio Farda, adding that he will appeal the ruling based on the principle of double jeopardy.
Meanwhile, The FUIW say Ms. Mohammadi has not even been allowed to speak with her attorney or relatives on the phone.

Dozens of labor activists have been arrested recently and are awaiting trial, including workers from the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane industrial complex, which has seen repeated strikes and labor protests in recent months, with workers demanding back pay. Among those who were arrested are the spokesman of the sugar cane workers’ unrecognized union, Esmail Bakhshi, and the former union director, Ali Nejati.

According to the FUIW, forty workers of the Iran National Steel Industrial Group (INSIG), based in Ahvaz, the capital of the oil-rich Khuzestan province, have also been detained without being charged.

"The Islamic Republic’s authorities cover up the miserable conditions of Iranian workers by sending their own agents as the representatives of the genuine workers to the ILO's international conferences and seminars," the FUIW warned Ryder in its letter, explaining that Iranian workers do not have the right to form independent trade unions, and when they demand their rights, better conditions, and their long overdue wages, they are brutally suppressed, arrested, or sacked from their jobs by the Islamic Republic's judiciary and intelligence agents.

Iran’s officials dismiss such allegations as unfounded, despite the fact that human rights organizations have repeatedly proved that genuine labor activists are not even allowed to represent workers officially inside Iran, let alone attend international gatherings.

The FUIW went on to accuse the Islamic Republic's authorities presenting false reports to on labor conditions to international forums like the ILO.

Despite a 1990 Labor Code that allows an independent guild society or workers representative to be appointed, the Islamic Republic holds a de-facto monopoly on worker representation through an entities called "Islamic Labor Councils,” the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which represents 170 million workers in 157 countries, said in a recent report presented to the United Nations.

“Islamic Labour Councils are largely ineffective at addressing workers' concerns with respect to issues such as employment rights, privatization, structural adjustments, low salaries, and wage arrears,” the report said.

Several trade unions and workers' syndicates around the world, including ones in Canada, France, and Sweden, along with the Amnesty International, have criticized the arrests of workers and labor activists in Iran in recent days, and called for their immediate release