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Labor Groups In Iran Demand A Major Boost To Minimum Wage Amid High Inflation

Iranian workers protest in southwestern Iran in November 2018. File photo
Iranian workers protest in southwestern Iran in November 2018. File photo

Iran's High Council of Labor (IHCL) is set to hold sessions to debate the minimum wage for the next Iranian calendar year (beginning March 21).

Meanwhile, nearly a month before the debates, ten local labor and trade associations have dismissed the sessions as a "mere state showoff" to disregard the fact that the minimum monthly cost of a family’s food basket has increased to ninety million rials, or more than $650.

Last year, IHCL set the minimum basket for a family of four at $300 per month and the minimum wage around $110, which was already much less than needed for a single or even a double-income labor family.

In a statement, the ten associations have insisted that the Islamic Republic government is "duty-bound" to set the minimum wage based on the real cost of the food basket for a family of four, set by experts.

Furthermore, the statement has stressed that the government should allocate enough budget to pay unemployment and deliver free and proper medical treatment to all.

In addition to low pay, thousands of workers go unpaid for months by inefficient companies or politically well-connected employers. There have been constant protests in the past three years in various parts of the country.

U.S. sanctions have worsened conditions for Iran's hybrid, government-controlled economy, devaluing the national currency fourfold.

The Alliance of Iranian Retirees, Metal and Electricity Workers' Trade Association of Kermanshah, the Painters Syndicate of Alborz, and Iran's Pensioners Council are among the signatories of the statement.

Iran's High Council of Labor (IHCL), composed of the Minister of Labor, the representative of the High Council of the Industries, three representatives of the employers, and three labor representatives, is assigned to set the minimum wage a month before the new Iranian calendar year starts (March 21).

In the meantime, the statement has expressed concern over the condition of part-time workers who are deprived of powerful and independent labor associations, syndicates, and trade unions.

Moreover, the statement says that no excuse will be acceptable for denying Iranian labor a proper minimum wage.

When widespread protests engulfed Iran last November, both the government and its opponents noted that unemployed people and low-income workers were at the center of the unrest. Security forces resorted to killing protesters by gunfire. Up to 1,500 people are said to have been killed, although the government has refused to disclose the number.

In a triple urgency motion, Majles (the Islamic Republic parliament) recently endorsed adding about $222 million to the budget of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps' extraterritorial military arm, the Qods Force, the workers’ statement noted, adding, "Therefore, the government cannot argue that it is short of financial resources to meet the workers’ demands."

The sensitive political issue is that the Revolutionary Guard played a major role in suppressing the November protests, killing hundreds of protesters and the workers know it.

Earlier, in an article for Radio Farda, Sweden-based Iranian economist, Mahmoud Alavi, had noted that "The amount President Hassan Rouhani's administration is offering to increase incomes in next year, is less than half of the inflation rate."

The head of the IHCL's Wages Committee, Faramarz Tofiqi, has also noted that after the mid-November three-fold increase in gasoline prices, Iranian workers' purchasing power has plunged to less than 30%.

According to the chairman of the High Center of Labor Guild Associations of Iran, Nasser Chamani, the Iranian workers' purchasing power since last March shows a fifty to sixty percent drop.