In late 2019, the Iranian government began to put undue pressure on the country’s workers, which has led to the current disastrous conditions that they are suffering under.
In a Supreme Council of Labour meeting last year, which was held without even the government-appointed workers’ representatives in attendance, the government and employers agreed that workers’ wages should not be raised by more than 15 percent and that the authorities would not allow inflation to rise more than 20 percent.
Even by their own statements, this is a real-term pay cut of 5 percent, but inflation quickly grew out of control. The government was forced to increase wages by 21 percent. Nonetheless, it was too late with many workers already cutting basic food from their diets.
Iran’s labor law says that regardless of the type of work, all full-time wages should be able to meet basic living standards. Sadly, this is not true. The poverty line for a family of four is currently 49.4 million rials, according to the Ministry of Labour, the Standard Organization, and the Ministry of Economy, while these same ministries have approved a 27-million-rial salary for the workers.
Faced with major protests from various labor communities, officials have made promises about raising wages in the latter half of 2020 in order to prevent nationwide protests. However, in September, Labour Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari said that wages were “not going to change”; something he reiterated in December.
Workers and even the state-linked trade unions have called for the change to be made right away, but the government is hiding behind an article in the labor law, which states that salaries can only be changed once a year, so the impoverished workers will have to wait another three months, by which time the situation will only be worse. Also, doesn’t the government have the power to change laws or take emergency action during a pandemic?
Some 63.9 percent of Iran’s working class are in poverty, according to a member of the Supreme Council of Labour’s salary committee. While 15 million workers are forced to work without contracts, are paid less than minimum wage, and face long delays in getting their paychecks.
“Unfortunately, we can already say that the increase in wages will not have a positive impact on workers’ living conditions next year. According to recent studies, workers’ wages should be around 100 million rials [$388],” one labor activist said.
“Of course, I would like to point out that this figure was for minimum living only, not a comfortable life. Therefore, 100 million rials is for the minimum livelihood, and unfortunately, the working community is far from these minimums,” the activist added.