Iraqi Cement Workers Stand up for Rights at Work

Some 350 workers at the Karbala cement plant signed a petition in April requesting representation in negotiations with management after management refused a similar request by a group of workers in February. The workers signed the petition after months of outreach by their co-workers to educate them on their rights.

Although Iraq law prohibits the workers from establishing a union because it is a public-sector factory, the plant receives International Finance Corp. (IFC) loans and IFC labor standards require respect for freedom of association. Also in April, cement workers staged a rally to urge management to meet with a committee of workers to discuss improving safety and health conditions and other key issues.

Workers at the plant, owned by Iraqi government but operated by a private company, say some have been unfairly penalized for asking for better wages and a safer work environment. One worker was transferred and another is being investigated, the workers say. The General Federation of Workers’ Unions in Iraq (GFWUI) sent a letter of support to the workers. “Your struggle is the struggle of all workers,” GFWUI wrote. (GFWUI’s letter in English and Arabic.)

Iraqi workers elsewhere are successfully improving working conditions at IFC-funded workplaces, using skills gained through Solidarity Center training programs, and are documenting violations and negotiating with management to improve working conditions.