Largest Iran energy workers strike in decades continues amid warnings of escalation

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Energy sector workers in over 60 companies in Iran have been on strike over the past 11 days, making this the second large-scale strike by energy sector workers in less than a year, and it is believed to be the most widespread strike in decades.

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The workers on strike since June 19th stretching across at least eight provinces have warned to widen the scope of their strike if authorities do not meet their demands by the end of August.

The Council for Organizing Protests of Oil Contract Workers has said that the strike will continue until the workers’ demands are met.

“Tens of thousands of our colleagues are on strike and our [permanent employee] colleagues will join the strike on June 30. If our demands are not met by the end of August, we will prepare for a wider continuation of our protests,” the council said in a statement on Saturday.

The striking workers’ demands include higher wages and better working conditions.

The strikes could pose a problem to Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s incoming president who will take over from President Hassan Rouhani on August 5.

Dozens of people on strike have reportedly left their workplace and returned to their hometowns. However, the council has urged them to return and stay in their dormitories to avoid being replaced by new contractors.

Last Tuesday, 700 striking workers at the Tehran oil refinery were fired, rights groups said. But a spokesman for the refinery later denied the report and said a sub-contractor had laid off 35 workers, according to state media.

Without mentioning a strike, Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said on Sunday the “problem of the contract workers” was linked to the labor code, not the state budget.

“We support all they are due under the code, but extra-legal claims are an entirely different matter,” the oil ministry’s website quoted Zanganeh as saying.

Zanganeh appeared dismissive of the demands of contract workers, saying only that he was trying to resolve the issues related to the salaries and benefits of permanent employees.

The striking workers have drawn support from in and out of Iran, including from IndustriALL Global Union, a global union federation which represents 50 million workers in 140 countries in the mining, energy, and manufacturing sectors.

On Monday, 230 Iranian activists inside and outside the country issued a statement in support of the striking workers.

The Iranian economy has been hit hard since 2018 when then-US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign.

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