It has been reported that an Iranian court sentenced 17 workers to fines and flogging for protesting last year the management practices of their employer, the state-owned Iran National Steel Industrial Group, and their employment status.

According to the semi-official Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA), the Revolutionary Court of the southern city of Ahvaz ordered the workers to pay a fine of 2.5 million tomans ($50) as a substitute for serving three months in prison on the charge of “disrupting public order by inciting disturbance and controversy.” The workers were also sentenced to 74 lashes each, but that punishment won’t be carried out unless they are found guilty of “crimes” during a period of three years.

IranWire spoke with labor activists about this verdict and its implications.

Who Is the Plaintiff?

According to ILNA, the plaintiff in the case was Shafagh Rahian Axin Industrial and Commercial Company, a contractor hired by the shareholders of National Steel Industrial Group that acts as the employer and is responsible for maintaining security at the steel company’s facilities and workplaces.

“This verdict is related to our protests last summer,” a labor activist who works for this company and who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, tells IranWire. “In that summer, we held a protest rally inside the company to demand the implementation of the Job Classification Plan. After that, we also went to the management office of Shafagh Company in the Amanieh neighborhood of Ahvaz,” the capital of Khuzestan province.

Iran Labor Law specifies that Jobs Classification (Including Job Analysis, Evaluation and Compensation) is mandatory for all companies active in the country. Companies with more than 50 employees and service companies that have contracts with the government must follow this regulation and submit and register their designed method in the labor office.

Article 48 of the Iranian Labor Law states: “For preventing the exploitation of the work of others, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs shall be obligated to formulate and enforce a job evaluation and classification system with the help of job standards and common practice for the jobs prevalent in the country.”

The Frame-Up

“During a sit-in that we had in front of the offices of this company, an official of the National Steel Industrial Group asked us to send a number of workers to the office of Ali Shabani, the company’s director,” says the labor activist. “The moment when these workers entered the management office, Mr. Shabani himself started breaking some items in his office and then screamed that we, the workers, had broken them. Then, after this incident, they fled a complaint against us through lawyers and the company’s legal department.

“The remarkable point is that, in the indictment that was issued, the magistrate examining the case claimed that indictment was based on the confessions of the accused and on pictures that supported the charges whereas, in this case, not only none of us, the workers, had been arrested but also we had rejected all the charges against us during all the phases of the legal proceedings that were conducted in a number of court sessions.”

We asked this labor activist who works for Shafagh Company how this verdict affects their jobs. “It depends on the decisions of the management and the security department after the verdict is final,” he says. “While the case was going through the court, we faced other actions before the verdict was issued. Six of us were suspended from our jobs for months and the rest received punishments such as wage deductions, overtime deductions and also forced transfer from our work units. Even right now, Karim Sayahi, one of our colleagues, is still not back at his job after many months. We definitely object to this verdict and we will appeal through our lawyer.”

The verdict can be appealed within 20 days after it was issued.

The Goal: Repression

“The workers of the National Steel Group have held protest rallies and strikes many times in the past years and each time they have been the target of repression by security forces,” another labor activist who works for the National Steel Group tells IranWire. “To force the Islamic Republic’s religious government to respond to the labor union’s demands, it is necessary to view demands from the perspective of human rights and human rights violations. Why is it that a worker whose livelihood is dependent on inefficient laws shaped by religion and politics does not have the right to protest for his job-related demands and his protests are suppressed and the issue resolved to the benefit of employers and the powerful?

“Undoubtedly, considering the miserable life of wage earners in Iran who has always been under the pressure of the powerful, the inefficiency of the regime in providing the welfare and the basic needs of wage earners, and the constant conflict between the law enforcement and the workers, this situation shall continue. And, without the intervention of human rights and workers’ rights organizations, labor activists and journalists, the Islamic Republic would add this model of repression and crime to its other previous crimes and would take further steps to suppress the protesters.”

The workers sentenced by Judge Meysam Imani of Branch 111 of Ahvaz Criminal Court for “disrupting public order by inciting disturbance and controversy” are: Mehdi Valipour (son of Gholamreza), Khaled Sharifi (son of Soleiman), Raeed Obeidavi (son of Abdulrahim), Taregh Khalafi (son of Mansour), Seyed Rasoul Harag (son of Seyed Getafe), Nader Hardani (son of Lafteh), Ali Naderi (son of Hassan), Mehdi Nagravi (son of Lafteh), Masoud Heydari Kaidan (son of Mehdi), Abdolhossein Hamidipour (son of Hamid), Mostafa Obayat (son of Namer), Abdul Karim Sayahi (son of Jassem), Kazem Heydari (son of Rahim), Ali Elahi-Far (son of Mohammad Reza), Hadi Waelizadeh (son of Abdul Rahim), Hassan Javid Hamoudi (son of Mankhi) and Gharib Hoveyzavi (son of Ramezan).

Sentencing workers who protest against their miserable pay and conditions in Iran to flogging is not something new. For example, in 2014, 17 protesting workers of Agh-Dareh gold mine in West Azerbaijan province were each sentenced to 30 to lashes for “preventing people from conducting business by inciting tumult,” “insulting the company’s guard” and “deliberate destruction of the company’s signboard.”

Source » iranwire