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Open Letter to 105th Session of the International Labour Conference – From Tehran Bus Workers’ Syndicate

http://vahedsyndica.com/archive/2176

With warm greetings,

As you are well aware the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Co., which is the largest metropolitan bus company in Iran, initiated its trade union activities by utilizing syndicalist educational workshops concerning workers’ rights for drivers and workers in 2004. From the very beginning we have faced pressures and threats against our members from employers, Islamic Labour Councils, agents of “Worker’s House” and government’s security forces. On May 9th 2005 elements of Worker’s House and Islamic Labour Councils in a coordinated assault swarmed our meeting location in broad day light while police and security forces were watching their illegal actions. Despite all pressures and threats we held our general membership election, after 27 years, on June 3, 2005. During the above general membership assembly, our board members were elected by thousands of our members’ votes and members delegated the board to pursue the accumulated demands of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company’s workers. But because of management’s refusal to address the legitimate grievances of TSBC’s workers and drivers the syndicate was forced to organize two strikes in February and March of 2006. During these strikes, which were unprecedented in the past thirty years, more than three hundred drivers and workers were arrested. All the arrested members were expelled from their jobs based on cooperation of Islamic Labour Councils, which are controlled and funded by “Worker’s House”, with company’s management. Most of these expelled workers were returned to work after six months because of syndicates’ persistent endeavors and defense work, except forty-nine members, which included board members and syndicate activists. And even out of these forty-nine, all but one were able to return to work after having being expelled from work, for four to six years. During 2006 and 2007 a number of syndicate’s board members were sentenced to extensive or suspended sentences by revolutionary courts because of their syndicalist activities. But syndicalist activities continued nonstop and despite all duress and hazards syndicate members never stopped our endeavors in support of expelled colleagues and solidarity for our fellow workers, though all members were constantly under pressure from elements of management and security forces.  

In this report we should also mention Mr. Reza Shahabi a board member of our syndicate was arrested in 2010 while he was on the job, driving a bus; he was violently assaulted in front of bus riders and incarcerated in Evin prison’s ward 209. After spending nineteen months in solitary confinement he was given six years of suspended sentence, banned from any union activities for five years and a financial fine of seven million Tomans by branch 15 of the revolutionary court. Due to extensive physical stress and tortures during interrogations, Mr. Shahabi suffered from back and neck dislocation and has had to go under surgery twice. After enduring prison for five years he is currently under medical leave of absence based on coroner’s recommendation. It should be noted that during his long incarceration Mr. Shahabi had to resort to hunger strike, four separate times, in protesting lack of medical attention to his deteriorating health conditions and the growing numbness of the left side of his body. His last hunger strike, to protest against his exile to Rajaee Shahr prison, lasted fifty-two days. Mr. Shahabi was prosecuted again in January of 2015 based on charges of “propagating against the system,” and sentenced to a year in prison, and this verdict was upheld in an appeals court. At the moment he has no source of income and is experiencing very hard circumstances; his multiple attempts to return to work through following up with the Labour Ministry has had no results. But Iran’s Ministry of Labour has reported to ILO that Mr. Shahabi has been released from prison and is back to work, which is totally untrue and baseless.

In 2015 only two days before the International Workers’ Day, two board members of Vahed Syndicate Messrs. Ebrahim Madadi and Davood Razavi were arrested. Mr. Ebrahim Madadi, vice chair of syndicate, has been repeatedly arrested solely because of his labour activism and was sentenced to three and half years of imprisonment, which he completed in Evin prison. He was arrested again by security forces on April 29, 2015 in his house. After spending twenty-two days in solitary confinement and posting a bail of hundred million Tomans he was freed from Evin prison’s ward 209. On April 16, 2016 he was prosecuted again but his sentence has not been announced yet. Mr. Davood Razavi is another syndicate member that was arrested along with Mr. Madadi on April 29, 2015. Security forces invaded Mr. Razavi’s residence at midnight, arresting him in his house and sent him to Evin prison’s ward 209. Mr. Razavi was freed after spending twenty-two days in jail, by bailing a bond of hundred million Tomans. He was again prosecuted on January 13, 2016 by branch 26 of the revolutionary court on charge of syndicalist activism and given a jail sentence for five years. This sentence was rebuked by his attorney and is now in the appeals process. The presiding judge has openly stated that the sentence against Davood Razavi is solely due to his continued syndicalist activities and his endeavor in pursuing the demands of TSBC’s workers and drivers, his participation in rallies in front of Tehran’s City Hall, his participation in May 1st event and participation in the rally in front of Labour Ministry demanding fair wages for workers.

During the past few years despite syndicate’s non-recognition by the government and all the repressive measures, incarceration, threats and expulsions the Vahed Syndicate has achieved significant achievements and noteworthy contributions for our members in particular and for Iranian labour movement in general; which will be briefly mentioned below: 

– Efforts to provide proper and affordable housing for drivers and workers, keeping in mind that over five thousand of TSBC employees lack adequate housing. We have been able to partially achieve this goal through repeated rallies dedicated to issue of housing for our members in front of Tehran’s City Hall and Tehran’s City Council, which has resulted in obtaining housing units, and housing benefits, for some of our members. This is an on-going initiative.

– We have also conducted a campaign for wage increases, which has occurred in two wage increases, after a campaign to classify job positions. Vahed Syndicate has been able to secure enhancement to housing subsidies and other work benefits for workers’ recreation, two sets of work clothing, milk and cake for workers’ breakfast, regular cash and non-cash monthly bounces….

– A significant and lasting achievement of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company has been raising workers’ awareness about their fundamental rights and the right to have independent organizations within the Company and across the country. 

– Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company is the first independent labour organization in Iran that was formed after twenty-seven years and as such is considered a significant historical achievement in our country’s labour movement.

Pursuing the legitimate demands and the rights of our members has resulted in persistent repression of our union representatives by security forces. As a result, many of our members have been targets of expulsion from work, including but not limited to:

– Mr. Hasan Saeidi has been expelled five times from his jobs due to his labour activism.

– Four of our members; Ms. Farahnaz Shiri and Messrs. Hasan Saeidi, Vahid Feraydouni, Naser Moharamzadeh have been expelled from their positions for more than four years now, but due to Labour Ministry’s and security forces’ collusion they have not been able to go back to their jobs.

– Another syndicate member Mr. Hossein Karimi Sabzevar has been expelled from his position since 2005, only because of his labour activism and Ministry of Labour has prevented him from returning to his previous position.

– Two other members of syndicate, Messrs. Akbar Pirhadi and Hasan Karimi who were originally expelled in 2005 were finally able to return to work after six years of efforts by syndicate’s and their own numerous attempts, but unfortunately none of their unemployment and severance benefits which they were qualified to receive was paid to them because of Labour Ministry’s disapproval. Although the Ministry of Labour is obliged by the law to protect workers’ interests not only it does not pursue any grievances from workers but constantly reports false and untrue information and reports to ILO.

The Ministry of Labour and its elements are adamant to impose Islamic Labour Councils, which are thoroughly the puppets of the employers and directed by the government and have no support among workers and rank and file, as representatives of Iranian workers. Despite all the numerous documentations provided by syndicate members on various frauds committed by Islamic Labour Council within Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, yet the Ministry of Labour has failed to take even a single action against them and keeps on insisting that these pseudo elements which are directed by the management and security forces be treated as workers’ representatives instead of syndicate delegates.

All the evidences and cases cited here are clear and egregious violation of internationally recognized and respected workers’ rights and ILO’s conventions, which Iranian government claims to abide by whenever it participates in international gatherings. But in practice Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company and all other independent labour organizations in Iran are deprived of even the most basic workers’ rights. Workers in other sectors are also faced with unbearable circumstances and any protest is answered through severe repression. Most recent examples are how mine workers in Bafgh and Khaton Abad have been arrested and tried. And, only a few days ago seventeen mine workers from “Agh-Dareh” gold mine in West Azarbaijan province were flogged in public as a punishment for their protest against job losses.

Our least expectation from ILO and the International Labour Conference is to seriously and strongly reprimand all representatives of Iranian government that participate in ILO gatherings and question them for the gross violation of workers’ basic rights in Iran. We demand pursuing all our grievances, regarding violation of our syndicate’s members’ rights, submitted to your organization. ILO ought to also pursue the cases of continued harassment and prosecution of Iranian teachers and all other labour activists in Iran. Once again, we declare that none of the individuals or organizations that have so far participated in ILO’s conferences under the title of workers or so called “workers’ representatives” (i.e. “High Center for Islamic Labour Councils” and “Workers House’, “High Assembly of the Workers’ Representatives” and “High Centre of Workers’ Guild Societies”) are legitimate or true representatives of Iranian workers; they are government sponsored entities and should not be accredited as “workers’ representatives” or “labour delegation”.

With special thanks.

Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company
June 1, 2016 (Khordad 12, 1395)

cc: ITF; The French Workers’ Collective in Support of Workers in Maghreb and Middle East (CGT, CFDT, UNSA, SOLIDAIRES, FSU),  LO-Sweden, Transport Workers’ Union in Sweden,  and other concerned trade union organizations internationally

Written by IASWI

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