Friday , 19 July 2024

Workers Still ‘Drowning’ Despite Iran’s Minimum-Wage Hike

RFL/RE – The Iranian government’s 35.3 percent hike in the minimum wage for workers, announced at the start of the Persian New Year, has sparked a backlash among labor activists and the country’s labor force, who say it is inadequate in the face of years of economic decline and falling living standards.

The wage hike was sanctioned by the Supreme Labor Council and ratified by representatives of the government and employers but not labor delegates, who showed their disapproval by walking out of the council meeting and refusing to endorse the decree.

“Being underwater economically, whether by a little or a lot, doesn’t change the fact that you are drowning,” Alireza Mirghafari, a council member and labor activist, was quoted by the semiofficial ILNA news agency as saying.

Labor analysts say the hike, made on the eve of the Persian New Year, won’t stop a rise in poverty levels among the workforce given the annual inflation rate for the past five years has been above 40 percent amid stagnant wages, decimating purchasing power for much of the country.

The country’s economy has been ravaged by U.S. sanctions, hitting budget revenues hard while also leading to a surge of protests. Labor Ministry data shows that Iran’s poverty rate doubled in 2021, with one-third of the population living in “extreme poverty.” Since then, conditions have failed to improve.

Meanwhile, in September 2023, Iran’s Misery Index, calculated by the Iranian Statistics Center, rose to 60.4 — its highest point ever and more than double what it was six years ago. The higher the rating, the worse off people feel.

The situation surrounding price growth is only going to get worse, according to Hassan Sadeghi, the head of the Veterans’ Union of the Labor Community. He says the inflation rate could be on its way to climbing as high as 67 percent.

The wage hike decision has also prompted calls for heightened labor activism, with organizations like the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Workers’ Syndicate labeling the increase “humiliating” for workers. The syndicate, through a Telegram statement, has urged for continuous protests and strikes to fight for fair wages.

Further criticism has come from the Syndicate of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, which said the new wage was still “insufficient” and called for collective action and the establishment of independent labor organizations as a means to defend workers’ living standards.

A consortium of labor groups, including the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Workers’ Syndicate and the Retirees’ Union, issued a joint statement emphasizing the importance of organized, strategic opposition to combat what they perceive as an exploitative system.

Unrest — including several protests by teachers — has rattled Iran in recent years in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of welfare support.

Labor laws in Iran do not recognize the right of workers to form independent unions.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda