Workers are routinely harassed, dismissed and kept under constant surveillance…

In late June 2017, the long-standing dispute at Iran’s Haft Tappeh sugar cane factory took another turn for the worse when company security guards prevented thirty workers from entering the factory. The workers locked out by the bosses are all employees with many years experience of working at the Haft Tappeh plant, which was established in 1976 as a 100 percent subsidiary of the state-owned Industrial Development and Renovation Organization of Iran Co. (IDRO). The workers were apparently locked out on the grounds that are the leaders of the current protest.

The Haft Tappeh workers have been taking “guerilla” action by stopping work and production at the plant almost every day since late March. They are protesting against unpaid wages and insurance benefits and have been forced to take similar action many times in the last ten years. The Haft Tappeh company has acquired a unenviable reputation for bad management, poor decision-making and worker exploitation. Its factory,  based in South West Iran near the Iraqi border and the historic city of Susa (pronounced Shush), is Iran’s only sugar cane mill and is now over 50 years old. But despite state ownership and an effective monopoly, the company built up large debts — over $90 million in 2017, mostly owed to public utilities and tax authorities. The company’s solution has been to withhold salaries, wages and pensions to its retirees. With sugar production becoming increasingly unreliable thanks to worker resistance, the Iranian government opened its market to sugar importers, reducing the customs duty from 140 percent of value to 4 percent and pushing Haft Tappeh deeper into crisis.

In 2007, after 16 strikes and two years of fruitless discussions with management and government officials, the workers delivered an ultimatum and went on indefinite strike for long-standing wage arrears, and a number of other demands:

Permanent jobs for contract workers,
The right to form independent workers’ organisations,
The right to live in houses owned by the factory,
A stop to the sale of factory land,
Implementation of the job evaluation scheme,
A pay rise.

But the company went ahead with its planned sale of a huge section of the factory’s agricultural land and the sacking of 2,000 workers, almost half the entire workforce.

After striking for 42 days, the workers decided to start their own independent union, having been forbidden by the state from joining one. They gained affiliation to the IUF global union, but thereby created targets for further repression. Union leaders have been arrested, imprisoned and blacklisted. And still their wage and benefit arrears increase. On 12 October, 2008, an Iranian court sentenced six union leaders to immediate prison terms on charges stemming from the 2007 action. In 2016, three leaders were convicted for their union activity for “endangering national security” following the actions in 2008, but had their sentences overturned on appeal.

Conditions have worsened since the company was privatised in what has been described as “a murky deal” in 2015, and since October 2016 workers have been striking repeatedly and demonstrating to demand payment of wages and benefits owed. Hundreds of the company’s 2,500 workers have not been paid their wages for at least two months, some for as many as four. Pension benefits have been suspended in recent months because of the company’s failure to pay into the state social security scheme, and pensioners have taken their own action by demonstrating outside the factory and management offices.

None of this has brought management to the negotiating table, and now the bosses are locking their own workers out of the factory.

One Haft Tappeh worker commented: “While all the striking workers have decided to stop production in response to the employer’s disregard for the payment of their trade demands, the security guards have prevented the entry of these 30 workers into the factory, arguing that they are leading the protests.” The management action is seen as targetting union officials, since all the company’s workers have played a part in the recent protests. If the company intends to sack anyone, say the workers, then it should fire all its employees.

The IUF has now stepped in to call for an international protest campaign.

Over half the plantation and mill workers have no permanent employment contracts and live in permanent insecurity. Current and retired workers and their family members have been harassed and threatened with the complete closure of the company if they continue to demand their rights; workers are routinely harassed, dismissed and kept under constant surveillance by the security forces.

The Haft Tapeh workers and their union are demanding full payment of wage and benefit arrears; recognition of the union as the workers’ legal representative; and the company’s return to government ownership.

Use the form on the IUF website to send a standard message to the Iranian authorities in support of the workers’ demands. []

You can also send your own message to any or all of these addresses:
Iran’s permanent mission at the United Nations
Iran’s Supreme Leader
President Rouhani’s media office
Iran’s Ministry of Education
Iran’s British embassy
Iran’s Swiss embassy

More details

Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane workers in southern Iran go on strike, Iranian Workers’ Solidarity Network, 5 October, 2007.

LABOUR-IRAN: Sugar Industry Strikes Bespeak Bitter Conditions, Inter Press Service, 9 November, 2007.

New protest by Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane workers, Open Publishing Newswire, 18 August, 2009.

Iran: Sugar cane factory workers in Haft Tappeh stage protest, National Council of Resistance of Iran. 5 October, 2009.

Iranian Privatization Organization (IPO) invitation to tender (PDF), May 2014.

Retired Haft Tappeh Sugar Cane Workers Protest, ILNA, 20 November, 2016.

Haft Tapeh sugar workers in Iran are fighting for their wages, pensions and rights!, IUF, 17 July, 2017.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
Author avatar

Gary Herman

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