Iran oil workers strike for better wages as economy suffers

Isabel Debre Associated Press
Wednesday, June 30, 2021

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Thousands of workers in Iran’s vast energy industry have gone on strike over the past week to press demands for better wages and conditions at oil facilities, Iranian media reported Wednesday. The widespread demonstrations underscore the mounting economic pressures on the country as it struggles to secure relief from crippling sanctions.

Footage has spread across social media showing construction workers at 60 oil and petrochemical installations, largely in the country’s oil-rich south, walking off their jobs in protest. In some videos, cars honk and crowds of workers cheer as they stream into the dusty roads, the refinery’s hulking white storage tanks receding behind them.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed Wednesday to “solve” oil workers’ grievances and sought to assuage fears over any economic reverberations.

He said the labor demonstrations were mainly limited to private construction workers on temporary contracts at the plants and would not hurt Iran’s oil production. The protests have not yet reached the state-owned National Iranian Oil Company, where some 200,000 workers receive wages three times as high and better protections under Iran’s labor law.

“We do not have and we will not have any problem in the production, transfer, distribution and export of oil,” Rouhani told his weekly Cabinet meeting. “I promise the workers of the oil industry that their problems will be solved.”

The striking workers at remote facilities in the southern desert reaches of the country, where summer temperatures exceed 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), are pushing for wages on par with their counterparts in the state oil company. They also want 10 days off a month to visit their families in faraway cities. The contractors currently receive some $200 a month, just one day off per week and 2 1/2 vacation days a month.

Iran’s oil sector, the lifeblood of its economy, has been devastated by the impact of American sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program. Three years ago, then-President Donald Trump pulled America from Tehran’s landmark 2015 atomic accord with world powers and returned sanctions on Iran that have slashed its petrochemical exports and clobbered its economy. Diplomats from parties to the deal have been struggling to resurrect the agreement in Vienna.