WORKERS RIGHTS WATCH – A biannual report on worker protests and legal developments in Iran (January to June 2023)

This report is the outcome of Volunteer Activists’ (VA) effort to undertake a comprehensive examination of labour issues and labour protests in Iran in the period January – June 2023. It is the second in a series of biannual reports on these issues that Volunteer Activists (VA) will publish in the coming years.

In doing so, VA aims to offer the international community more insights into current labour issues and labour protests in Iran. Knowing that their voices are heard internationally, is highly important for Iran’s labour movement. Also, by gaining an in-depth understanding of the needs of Iranian workers, as well as the capacities and needs of trade unions advocating for these, subsequent programs and activities could be designed by international donors to meet these organizational needs, resulting in greater impact. Given its contacts in Iran, VA is relatively well positioned to provide this information.

The Iranian labour landscape is vastly diverse and mapping the situation regarding labour issues and labour struggles was only possible through comprehensive and intensive research. Our assessment of the situation regarding labour issues and labour rights has been based on both primary and secondary sources. VA conducted interviews, sometimes online, with some of our labour activists on the ground. (Verified) media reports and published research were the secondary data source, alongside social media monitoring.

Based on this research, the following key observations can be made on labour issues and labour protests in Iran in the period January – June 2023:

  • Whereas political protests largely stopped in 2023, labour protests continued, showing the vibrancy of the Iranian labour movement.
  • Protests were highly diverse in character, including marches to Parliament, strikes and sit-ins to online campaigns aimed at changing law-making together with other representatives of Iran’s civil society.
  • The government’s response to the labour protests was marked by duality. On one hand, it suppressed independent labour unions and activists and ignored workers’ demands. On the other hand, it attempted to appease certain worker groups by making some concessions.

Other takeaways from this report are listed in  below.

  • There were more labour protests in the first half of 2023 than in the previous period under study (June – December 2022).
  • There were more labour protests in the first half of 2023 than in the previous period under study (June – December 2022).
  • Dozens of trade union and labour activists were fired, denied salaries and arrested and prosecuted during the past six months just for trying to assert trade union and labour rights.
    While the intensity of the government’s suppressive tactics continues to hamper labour protests in Iran, labour protests were on the rise in several economic sectors, including oil, public sector, railway maintenance and cargo transport.
  • The Iranian government is actively pursuing numerous legal changes that impact labour rights in Iran, with implications that can be both positive and negative.
  • Besides labour protests addressing sector-specific issues, there were also protests regarding broader legislative issues, including those concerning the setting of the minimum wage.
  • Public campaigns launched in conjunction with other organizations, such as women’s groups, have served as platforms for collaboration, bringing together labour unions and various stakeholders to work towards common goals.
  • By adopting innovative organizational strategies and implementing more effective actions, Iranian labour unions have the potential to inspire greater successes.
  • The international community can help Iranian CSOs, including by putting pressure on the Iranian government in meetings of international organizations to allow independent trade unions in Iran and by stimulating foreign press coverage on Iranian labour struggles.

Altogether, this report illustrates the operating conditions of Iranian trade unions, shows the current capacity of Iranian trade unions (and the limitations to these) and offers an insight into both existing and emerging needs of Iranian workers.


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