Branch 106 of the criminal court of Arak has sentenced 15 HEPCO workers to between a year to two and a half years in prison and 74 lashes for “disrupting public order” and “instigating workers via the internet to demonstrate and riot” after strike action against unpaid wages in May this year.
HEPCO workers have taken repeated strike action to protest wage arrears, a decline in occupational safety and uncertainty surrounding continued production. This follows years of mismanagement at the company that has seen the workforce of specialized engineers decline from over 8,000 to around 1,000 today.
HEPCO was once one of the most prestigious heavy equipment manufacturers in the region. The company was first privatized in 2001, bailed out by the state after it failed, and privatized again last year, resulting in large scale job losses and a decline in conditions. The company produces construction equipment under license for Volvo, Komatsu and Liebherr and other companies as well as its own brand.
Unions in Iran see the sentencing as an attempt to warn workers against taking action.
In an address to the labour minister Mohammad Shariatmadari, IndustriALL Global Union affiliate the Union of Metalworkers and Mechanics of Iran (UMMI) said:
“Can a hungry stomach by silenced by a legal judgement? Is that the message of the minister to the workers of our homeland? Do Mr Shariatmadari and the Ministry of Labour intend to suppress more unions and starve workers? Strikes and protests are the right of the workers and all the people of Iran. We will not give up this right.”
IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:
“Iran is introducing bad economic policies, inspired by neoliberal economics that undermine society and labour. We are angry at seeing this wave of privatization, combined with corruption and a repressive state. This is a recipe for disaster.
“The workers at HEPCO are right to protest against the mismanagement of the company. They have no choice but to take strike action against unpaid wages. They need to eat. The security forces cannot suppress the legitimate demands of Iran’s workers forever. Iran must recognize independent unions.”
UMMI reports severe economic hardship, saying that more than 60 per cent of industrial workshops have shut. The influx of unemployed workers to unemployment insurance is unprecedented, and could lead to the bankruptcy of the social security.