Time to end the repression of Iran’s trade unions

As workers around the world unite on May Day, two of Iran’s most prominent trade unionists languish in prison.

Mansour Osanloo and Ebrahim Madadi, leading members of the Syndicate of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed), are serving five and three year prison sentences respectively, in connection with their trade union activities.

Both are prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for their peaceful advocacy of workers’ rights. Mansour Osanloo, like many other prisoners in Iran, has also been denied medical care while in custody, which has threatened his health.

On International Workers’ Day, Amnesty International has called on the Iranian authorities to immediately release those imprisoned for their trade union work. The authorities should also drop charges against others currently facing trial for similar reasons and end other repressive measures which marginalize trade unions and their members.

The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), Education International (EI), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) as well as Iranian workers’ bodies have similarly called for the immediate and unconditional release of Mansour Osanloo and Ebrahim Madadi.

Amnesty International has also asked the Iranian authorities to review the cases of five leaders of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Company (HTSCC) Trade Union, with a view to overturning their convictions and sentences.

In April 2009, the five were sentenced to between four to six months’ imprisonment for “propaganda against the system” in connection with interviews they gave on May Day 2008 to foreign journalists about working conditions at the plant.

Amnesty International has also urged the Iranian authorities to allow peaceful gatherings by workers on May Day. Alireza Saghafy, a member of the Centre for Workers’ Rights in Iran, was detained for five hours on 28 April 2009, during which he was reported to have been told to try to prevent a May Day rally planned for Tehran.  

In previous years, peaceful May Day celebrations have been broken up by the authorities and those who attended have faced prison terms and flogging. On 18 February 2009, Sussan Razani and Shiva Kheirabadi were flogged in Sanandaj Central Prison, north-west Iran, after being convicted of participating in a rally in Sanandaj on May Day 2008.

In February 2008, at least three workers were flogged. They were among 11 people convicted of participating in a similar gathering on May Day 2007.  

Fifty people in Saqez who attended a May Day gathering in 2004 were arrested. Most were released later the same day, but seven spent 12 days in detention before being released on bail. Two were acquitted, but the other five were sentenced to between two and five years’ imprisonment, although these convictions were later overturned. One of them, Mahmoud Salehi, eventually spent a year in prison on charges related to his trade union activities.

Independent trade unions are banned in Iran. Under Iranian labour legislation, workers are allowed to form Islamic Labour Councils (ILCs) – which cannot defend the terms and conditions of their members – in companies with more than 50 workers. They are not, however, permitted to set up any other labour organization.