DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Thousands of workers in Iran’s vast energy industry went on strike last week demanding better wages and conditions at oil facilities, Iranian media reported on Wednesday. Widespread protests underline mounting economic pressures on the country as it struggles to seek relief from crippling sanctions.
Images have spread on social media showing construction workers at 60 oil and petrochemical facilities, mostly in the oil-rich south of the country, quitting their jobs in protest. In some videos, cars honk and crowds of workers cheer as they pour down the dusty roads, the refinery’s huge white storage tanks backing up behind them.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday vowed to “resolve” the grievances of oil workers and sought to allay fears about any economic reverberation.
He said the union protests were mainly limited to private construction workers on temporary contracts in factories and would not harm Iranian oil production. The protests have yet to reach Iran’s national oil company, where some 200,000 workers receive three times the wages and better protections under Iranian labor law.
“We have and will not have any problems in the production, transfer, distribution and export of petroleum,” Rouhani said at his weekly Cabinet meeting. “I promise workers in the oil industry that their problems will be solved.”
Strikers at isolated facilities in the country’s southern desert, where summer temperatures exceed 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), are demanding wages comparable to those of their counterparts at the national oil company. They also want 10 days off a month to visit families in distant cities. Entrepreneurs currently receive about $ 200 per month, one day off per week and 2 1/2 vacation days per month.
Iran’s oil sector, the lifeblood of its economy, has been devastated by the impact of US sanctions on Tehran’s nuclear program. Three years ago then-President Donald Trump withdrew America from Tehran’s landmark 2015 atomic deal with world powers and rolled back sanctions against Iran that reduced its petrochemical exports and undermined its economy. Diplomats from parties to deal struggle to resuscitate deal in Vienna.
With the coronavirus pandemic exacerbating Iran’s economic woes, inflation has soared by more than 40%, taking a heavy toll on ordinary workers. In recent months, workers have staged scattered, low-intensity strikes in various cities and industries over issues of wages, pensions and pensions.
There have been no reports of harsh action against the strikers by the security forces. Human rights groups have nevertheless sounded the alarm, citing the country’s grim history of suppressing popular unrest.
The Iranian media, strictly controlled by the authorities, paid little attention to the strikes by oil workers. Trade union protests in the oil sector remain politically sensitive in Iran, where in 1978 mass strikes against wages and working conditions in the oil industry cut production and turned into demands for the overthrow of the oil industry. pro-western monarchy before the Islamic Revolution months later.
“The problems faced by workers in the oil industry are the same as those faced by all workers in Iran; authorities should start addressing their urgent needs, “said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, a New York-based advocacy group, warning of the potential for” violence against strikers if these work stoppages continue and multiply. “
In the meantime, however, Iranian officials say they are trying to meet workers’ demands.
At an emergency meeting of the parliamentary committee on strikes this week, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said he had received support from lawmakers to remove wage restrictions on construction contracts in the oil industry.
Former radical president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was unable to stand for re-election in Iran this month, sent a letter of support to the strikers. After his disqualification, the well-known populist sought to rally support by presenting himself as a protest figure. Iranian justice chief Ebrahim Raisi wins vote widely seen as tilted in his favor.
“I warn all authorities and officials concerned,” said Ahmadinejad, whose re-election in a contested presidential vote in 2009 saw security forces crack down on Iranian Green Movement protests with brutal force. “Ignoring the protests of those who have found blocked all the usual forms of expressing their demands will not have good consequences.”
Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran contributed to this report.