On the recent industrial
disputes in the Iranian oil and petrochemical industry
By Shahla Daneshvar
Editor of 'Workers'
In 1988, the Islamic regime of Iran approved a bill to privatise sections of oil and petrochemical related industries. Early on, officials of the Islamic regime acknowledged that the proposal would result in cuts of up to 40,000 jobs. This policy pursued by the regime has resulted in compulsory redundancies and the sacking of thousands of workers in various part of the oil industry. In recent months, the policy has accelerated and with it the protest of workers.
Protests followed the publishing of a letter by Gholam Reza Nemat-Zadeh, the Chief Executive of the National Petrochemical Industries, in September 2003 to the Oil Ministry regarding selling off a section of the petrochemical industry where the Oil Ministry is holding less than 50% of shares. In response, Bizhan Zanganah, Minister of Oil, issued a letter giving a positive response.
The petrochemical industry employs hundreds of thousands of workers and privatisation would result in loss and insecurity of employment for thousands. The Islamic regime has agreed to transfer the factories, including the workers, to the private sector. Workers have objected to this policy and stated that they would not agree to this privatisation as they are employed by the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and would fight any threat to their employment.
Protest against this policy has now moved beyond the petrochemical section of the NIOC. Other oil workers including the retired workers of Abadan oil refinery, National Gas Company (NGC) and National Exploration Company (NEC), which are all related to the Oil Ministry, have joined the protest. Feelings of anger are running high within the oil workers and the protest by the petrochemical workers has been applauded by other sections of the working class in Iran. The petrochemical workers are leading the struggle against mass redundancies in Iran.
The timeline of the dispute is as follows:
27 October 2003: Arak petrochemical workers stop work and strike for several days, including protests and meetings at the factory. They denounce the privatisation policy and threaten to block the main highway near the factory in protest.
29 October 2003: Bakhshiyan, Head of Personnel of the National Petrochemical industry of Iran, travels to Arak to bring an end to the Arak strike. The protest continues
1 November 2003: Petrochemical workers in Esfahan and Khark Island join the strike and protest.
1 November 2003: Esfahan workers assemble at the factory and give a 48 hours deadline to officials to meet their demands.
1 November 2003: Arak petrochemical workers stop work and assemble at the factory.
4 November 2003: Under pressure, Bakhshiyan, Head of Personnel of the petrochemical industry, announces that the petrochemical workers will not be transferred to the private sector. In a letter to the workers, he announces that they would have the right to be transferred, receive redundancy or remain in employment of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). Although this is a clear retreat by the government in the face of pressure by the workers, the workers are not satisfied and demand that the Chief Executive of the petrochemical industry officially rescind his original letter.
5 November 2003: Arak petrochemical workers assemble at the factory and speaker after speaker demand the withdrawal of the proposals. The Head of the Regional Council is forced to attend the meeting; he assures workers that he will personally resolve their grievances within a week. On the same day in Esfahan, workers hold a protest meeting. A local Assembly Member and the Head of the Regional Council attend the meeting to negotiate with workers. The local MP announces that the unilateral action of the Minster of Oil and his deputy is in breach of contract of employment and illegal. The local MP assures the workers in Esfahan and promises to write to the Minster.
12 October 2003: Arak, Esfahan and Khark Island petrochemical workers follow up their earlier ultimatum. 700 gather at the factory's meeting hall in protest. The Director of Arak Petrochemical Factory attends the meeting and gives a report of his negotiations with the government in order to pacify the workers. He says that the Minister of Oil has agreed to a 4-month grace period for workers of privatised Arak plant to transfer to other parts of the state owned petrochemical company. The protesters reject the offer and elect 30 representatives to pursue their demands. In a coordinated action, Arak, Khark and Esfahan workers announce that if their demands are not met, they will take further action on 17 October 2003.
13 November 2003: Tens of workers from Abadan oil refinery assemble at the personnel office of the factory and protest against privatisation. As part of privatisation of sections of Abadan oil refinery, these workers had been threatened with redundancy; management offered them early retirement, including housing on receipt of a one off payment of £1500.00. After 80 workers who received early retirement accepted the offer, the company asked £7000.00 for housing.
19 November 2003: More than 1000 workers from Arak petrochemical plant join a meeting inside the factory, march to the gates and have a sit-in for two hours. They issue a further threat of sit-in on 24 November 2003.
21 November 2003: A 10-member delegation from Abadan petrochemical company travel to Tehran to pursue their demands.
22 November 2003: Further gathering of workers in Arak plant end in speeches and a further announcement of protest and industrial actions.
24 November 2003: Arak petrochemical workers gather at the factory. According to the Islamic Republic News Agency 600 workers took part in the protest. The Head of Arak Petrochemical attends the meeting and states that according to the company's executive decision, the production in Arak plant will not allow the company to accept the demands of workers. This announcement angers the workers who decide to go on a 3-day hunger strike next week.
Feelings of anger are running high amongst Arak, Esfahan, Khark and Abadan petrochemical workers as well as the retired employees. The protests are continuing.