On September 7, Iran’s Heavy Equipment Production Company (HEPCO) workers in the western city of Arak marched on the street, blocking the north-south railroad. They were protesting months of unpaid wages and the privatization of the company which has left the once productive factory in shambles.
In the evening, riot police and security forces attacked the workers peaceful protest, violently beating them with batons.
According to reports at the time, 40 workers were detained while around 20 were injured.
Oven the past four years, HEPCO workers have held many protests and taken several strike actions.
There were reports in October 2018 that 15 workers were sentenced to prison and lashes for their protests.
“Unfortunately, HEPCO’s problems have been abandoned through privatization, and at the present time, workers and their families are suffering the consequences, living in difficult circumstances,” Davoud Mirzaie, the head of the regime affiliated House of Workers in Markazi Province told the state-run ISNA News Agency.
The Heavy Equipment Production Company (HEPCO) is an Iranian company that manufactures construction equipment, agricultural machinery, railroad wagons, trucks and equipment for the oil, gas, energy, metal and mining industries. The company is based in Arak, the capital of Markazi Province in western Iran.
HEPCO, once the largest heavy equipment manufacturer in the Middle East, currently employs no more than 700 workers, all in danger of losing their jobs as their employer near bankruptcy.
HEPCO was established and registered in 1972, with the objective of assembling and producing heavy equipment. It started its operation in 1975 in Arak covering one million square meters of land and 40,000 square meters of production space in collaboration with Navistar International, Dynapac, Poclain, Sakai Heavy Industries and Lokomo.
According to Ali Akbar Karimi, Arak’s representative in the regime’s parliament, the reason behind HEPCO’s problems “lies in the wrong decisions in privatizations”.
“Unfortunately, the government and the privatization agency did not function correctly in transferring these companies and factories… This has caused workers to sometimes not receive their salaries for months,” he said in an interview with Fahikhtegan Daily on September 19.
In 2006, in the name of privatization, 60% of HEPCO’s shares were given at a low price of 75 billion tomans to Kowsar Wagons, a wagon manufacturer affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The actual value of HEPCO’s assets were about 2,000 billion tomans.
The company was to be sold at 75 billion tomans, 30 percent of which was to be paid in cash while the rest was to be given in installments.
The buyer only paid 21 billion tomans through a loan from the Pasargad Bank. After 13 years that loan is still outstanding. Though Kowsar has received many warnings to repay the debts, they have been granted other loans during this time.
As of 2017, HEPCO accumulated 985 billion tomans in losses and debts.
HEPCO workers are not the only ones demanding an end to privatization.
Workers of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company in the SW city of Shush, the Isfahan Polyacryl Company, the Tabriz CNC Machine Factory in northwestern city of Tabriz, the Iran National Steel Industry Group in the SW city of Ahwaz, and the AzarAb company in Arak are all suffering as a result of privatization.
But the government of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has insisted on continuing the policy of privatizing companies that were once public.