Stop Harassing Oil Workers, Iraqi Unions Tell Government

Iraqi unions are strongly protesting the government’s continued, systematic harassment and punishment of union workers in the oil industry who are engaging in actions protected by international labor standards and conventions, and they are calling for a new labor law that ensures worker rights for all Iraqis. ACT NOW! Join the LabourStart campaign!

Although the right to peaceful protest is covered under Arabic and international conventions, the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Iraq Constitution, Iraqi government agencies frequently interfere with internal union affairs, punishing union activists by imposing forced transfers, demotions, fines, travel restrictions, and other penalties allowed by Iraq’s labor law, which dates from the Saddam Hussein regime. The suppression of worker rights has been most severe in the oil sector, where the Oil Ministry has worked hand in hand with the oil companies to enforce these punishments.

This harsh approach is evident in the April 17, 2011, arrests of 25 workers at the Maysan Oil Company in southern Iraq who were peacefully demonstrating against corporate corruption. Even though they had received advance permission to hold their demonstration, a Ministry of Oil investigation led to the reprimand of seven workers and a warning to 18 others. All 25 were instructed that further actions would lead to greater penalties being applied against them. Individual letters sent by the company on December 13, 2011, essentially stated that the workers’ livelihoods would be jeopardized if they continued to engage in such activity.

Other recent retaliations have targeted top union leaders who engage in peaceful protest. Abdul Kareem Abdul Sada, vice president of the General Federation of Trade Unions and Workers’ Councils of Iraq (GFTUWCI)–Basra Branch, received a reprimand and six-month suspension of his salary bonus, in accordance with recommendations made by investigative committee No. 1129 on January 11, 2012. Hassan Juma’a Awwad, president of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU), received a three-year grade demotion and Adel Abood, a board member of the southern oil union of the IFOU and member of the IFOU assembly board, received multiple written reprimands, based on the recommendations of the same investigative committee. All were accused of “inciting unrest.”

Government repression hinges on Iraq’s 1987 labor law, which prohibits union activity in the public sector and contravenes International Labor Organization conventions 87 and 98 on the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. A new draft labor law, which is currently before parliament, not only fails to secure those rights for Iraqi workers but also no longer contains a chapter on trade union organization. So far, there is no indication of when a separate law on trade unions might be introduced.

“The new draft law disenfranchises public-sector workers, who constitute the majority of Iraqi workers, and leaves them highly vulnerable to government retaliation for participating in union activities,” said Shawna Bader-Blau, executive director of the Solidarity Center. “We strongly denounce these repressive measures, intended to muzzle workers’ speech and intimidate union activists, and we call on the global labor movement to join us in condemning them.”