Workers of the Haft Tappeh Sugar Mill in southern Iran have been on strike for four consecutive days in protest to not receiving their wages and the privatization of the company. The workers started their strike on November 5.
They have warned the government that if their requests were not met, they would take their strike outside of the company.
Founded half-a-century ago in the southern city of Shush, in Khuzestan Province, the Haft Tappeh Sugar Mill is the oldest sugar factory in Iran. Some 5,600 workers are currently working at the company.
Since the privatization of the Haft Tappeh Sugar Mill in a questionable 2015 privatization deal, the condition of workers has worsened. They have said that since the transfer of ownership to the present owners, the company’s debts have increased, with the employer only thinking of reducing the permanent workforce.
Accusing the government of supporting the wealthy, the workers complain they have become poorer while the managers of the company have become richer.
Trade unionist Jafar Azimzadeh, the leading member of the Free Union of Workers in Iran, described the workers’ condition as “slavery.”
“The families of some workers have to buy bread on credit, because of unpaid salaries and if this situation continues, even bakeries will refuse to sell bread to the workers on credit,” he said, explaining the plight of workers who have not received their wages for months.
Under such financial strain, some workers have even reached the point of committing suicide.
Ali Naghdi was the latest instance whose dead body was found afloat in a canal on February 27. It was said that Naghdi committed suicide due to his debts as the company refused to pay his wages.
Haft Tappeh workers have always had to fight for their wages, pensions and rights in the past years.
In recent months, they have been going on strikes periodically, protesting unfulfilled promises made by their employer.
The last time the Haft Tappeh Sugar Mill workers went on strike was in mid-August when 500 workers protested not being paid for at least three months. Reports indicate that riot police attacked the striking workers with tear gas and beat the protesters. Five workers were also detained but were later released after being charged with “disrupting order”.
This was not an isolated case of persecution against these workers. Iranian officials have in the past also responded with force, arresting leaders and members of the Haft Tappeh Workers’ Syndicate.
At least 100 workers of Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company have been summoned or detained only for speaking out and demanding their rights.
The Syndicate of Workers of Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company in Ahvaz announced on Sunday, February 4, that at least 34 of their workers were arrested by the police in their ongoing strike. Ismail Bakhshi, Karamat Pam, Rahim Besak and Ramadan Alipour were among the detainees. According to reports, the four were interrogated. The report indicates that the detainees were transferred to the Haft Tappeh Police Station. There is no news on the charges brought against them.
A number of workers, including Hassan Alkasir, Amir Alkasir, Majid Amiri, and eight others were summoned to the Shush Intelligence Department via telephone on Tuesday March 6. Earlier, Ramadan Alipour and Rahim Beshagh, labor activists and members of Haft Tappeh Sugar Mill Union were summoned by the 3rd Branch of the Shush Court.
Summonses were issued for about 20 Haft Tappeh Sugar Mill workers following a gathering outside of the governor’s office on March 28 in Ahvaz.
The summons said that the workers had to report to the Shush Prosecutor’s Office at 9 am on Saturday March 31. The workers who went to the Office on March 31 were told that it was closed for the holidays. According to reports, at 1 pm on the same day, security forces came to the Sugar Mill with arrest warrants for the workers and detained a number of them. The forces then went to the homes of other workers to detain them.