Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Thousands march in Iran labor protest


Monday, May 1, 2006; Posted: 11:35 a.m. EDT (15:35 GMT)

TEHRAN, Iran, (Reuters) -- Thousands of Iranian workers on Monday protested the growing use of short-term employment contracts. It was the most vociferous May Day demonstration the Islamic state has seen in years.

The protest came as a reminder to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that, although embroiled in an international dispute over his country's atomic ambitions, he was elected to improve living conditions for the poorest members of society.

Short-term contracts, while better paid than regular staff contracts, allow bosses to fire workers more easily and cheaply.

"The contract worker is a slave as he lives in fear of being sacked," said Aliasghar Ghaliaf, 37, who has worked in a textile factory on a permanent contract for 19 years.

"Employers set us up against the contract workers, accusing us of not working hard enough," he added.

Paper-factory worker Masoud Cheraghi, 40, said, "Some employers even make contract workers sign a resignation form without a date on it."

The demonstrators, numbering some 10,000, called for Labor Minister Mohammad Jahromi to resign and brandished placards with bread stuck on them to symbolize their hand-to-mouth existence.

Some wore headbands saying, "The short-term contract is a slavery law." Others carried banners that read, "Labor strikes must be revived."

The protesters spread out for more than a kilometer (0.6 mile), beating their chests in a reference to religious mourning ceremonies.

Unions exist in Iran but their power is limited. Authorities quickly snuff out strikes and protests over living conditions.

Short-term contracts were introduced by the previous administration of pro-reform cleric Mohammad Khatami as part of attempts to make the state-heavy economy more efficient. The Labor Ministry said it was looking at ways to "optimize" the contracts in favor of workers. The Labor House, the largest labor foundation in Iran, said temporary contracts were a threat to job security.

"This is an idea that sacrifices the rights of the workforce on the pretext of boosting investment and profits," said the Labor House's legal adviser Arash Faraz.

Ahmadinejad is a religiously conservative populist who won a landslide presidential election victory in June after promising to deliver petrodollars from the world's fourth biggest oil producer to the people.

Iran's government says 10.9 percent of the workforce is unemployed, but some economic analysts say the real figure could be nearer 25 percent.


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