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Striking Workers At Iran's Agro-Industrial Complex Protest On Streets

Esmail Bakhshi (center) leader of the workers union at Haft Tappeh. He spent more than a year in jail and now is back to his work. June 12, 2020

On day seventeen of the new round of strikes at Haft Tappeh agro-industrial complex on Wednesday, workers took to the streets in Shush and chanted slogans about poverty and hunger and against President Hassan Rouhani.

Videos posted on social media show a large group of masked workers protesting and chanting "Unity, unity", "Death to Rouhani", "Workers will die but not be humiliated". The protesting workers are organized by Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Workers' Syndicate, one of the few large workers' unions established in 1974. They also want two members of the syndicate who were sacked by the owners to return to work.

The workers are on strike because the owners of the huge sugarcane industries have not paid their wages for three months and failed to renew their health insurance among other things.

The massive agro-industrial complex which was founded in the 1960s in the oil-rich Khuzestan Province, is the oldest sugar mill in Iran. The mill was privatized under questionable circumstances in 2015. The workers of the mill want its ownership to return to the government as huge debts have built up since the new owners with dubious records took over.

The owners are also involved in a $1.5 billion FOREX corruption case. In one of the sessions of the trial, the prosecutor alleged that Omid Assadbeigi, the CEO of the company and one of its owners, has deliberately not paid the workers wages as a tool to put pressure on the court to acquit him, presumably being aware of the complications that workers' protests and strikes will create for the government.

In the latest session of his trial, Assadbeigi claimed that the government had mistreated the owners and created unjustified legal cases against them.

According to the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA), workers are also worried about the spread of coronavirus among them. "40 of our colleagues are now in isolation due to COVID-19," one of the workers was quoted by ILNA as saying.

ILNA also on Wednesday reported that the Minister of Cooperatives, Labor and Social Welfare has ordered to renew the health insurance of all of the workers of Haft Tappeh. An official of the local Welfare Department confirmed to ILNA that workers were last paid their wages in early March.

According to the official, the agro-industrial complex employs 3,380 full-time and contract workers as well as 2,500 seasonal workers. Another official told ILNA that the government is arranging for the payment of one-month's wages to the workers within a week.