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Challenges Facing Women Workers

May 1st commemorated the heroic struggle of the textile workers of Chicago in 1886. While this day is a national holiday in many countries in the world, and is celebrated by workers, in Iran not only is it not a national holiday, the994-women-p8 state prevents workers demonstrations or expression of their demands on this day.

The regime of Islamic Republic only allows organizations manufactured by itself and ones that are ‘subordinate to the leadership’ to assemble and organize. Last year the regime prevented the members of the Union of bus drivers of Tehran from distributing sweets among the workers as a celebration of international workers’ day, while Ebrahim Madadi and Davood Razavi, members of the union’s management were arrested. Every year the treatment of workers becomes harsher in the run-up to May 1st.

The neo-liberal policies such as privatization and structural adjustment worsen the conditions of unemployment and poverty. The trend of firing workers and closure of factories and workshops continues unabated. The workers who are not laid off have to deal with severely delayed pay and insurance. Women are among the first to be laid off, and this is true of women in all walks of life and not just women workers.

In 2009 the number of women in employment was put at about 3.7 million – including mainly office workers, nurses, teachers and workers. Their numbers fell severely in 2014 and reached 3 million. Each year more than 100,000 women dropped out of the employment figures. Ever since the subsidies were targeted, women became the first victims of the reduction of workforce. The free market dominance meant that the buying power of women workers, teachers and nurses dropped. Most of these women are head of household too.

The misogynistic policies of the regime limit women’s permissible working hours in order to make them stay at home and they enact this by bill such as: home-working, reduction of working hours for women, increase in maternity leave (with no guarantee of the right to return to work) and proactive encouragement for having multiple children, the bill for the protection of the ‘Hijab’ and chastity and a reduction of working hours (for women). While these measures are taken in the guise of protection for women, given the employment conditions in the country especially the low pay for women, they have made the finding of employment harder for women. Employers are free to replace women with young or disabled children with male employees. The rate of unemployment among women is double men.

According to official statistics, women make up 5%-8% of all workers, this is the result of the deep discrimination against women enshrined in the law and due to the medieval outlook and action of the regime.

Women work in smaller factories and workshops which are by law exempt from legal protection; their pay, insurance and pension rights are decided according to their employers’ whim, which means no insurance or pension entitlement. Forced to accept employment in such places women are forced into temporary and zero hour contracts. ILNA has reported that employers hide their workers from inspectors so that they do not have to insure them. If they are discovered and the inspector orders that they should be insured, the workers are fired. The report also mentions that women workers are expected to meet the employers’ demands that are an affront to their moral and religious values – a condition that leads to the women leaving their jobs.

Researchers have found that 11% of women work as street vendors, many of whom are heads of household. As employment opportunities in agriculture and industry are lost the workers are forced to try to make living as street vendors. The regime’s male or female officers deal with women vendors with violence and aggression and confiscate their goods and arrest them. Zahra Karimi Moghari, member of the School of Economics and Finance at the University of Mazandaran said: ‘If they are prevented from earning a living this way, then we must be prepared for the social harm that may follow.’

The regime’s policies have given the employers a free hand to exploit women. The ‘plan for safeguarding hijab and chastity’ is among the committees and groups set up by the regime which enjoy a share of the country’s income and budget, while thousands of women who are among the country’s productive force necessary for the economy’s progress, lose their jobs and security.

Women’s right to employment and security of employment for women factory workers, office workers, teachers, nurses and the like are a priority for our people’s struggle, because the regime’s policies breach workers’ rights especially women’s; and as such it becomes an important part of the struggle of women activists and the popular movement.

The working women have demands common with their male counterparts, among them the demand for an end to zero hour contracts, for pay increases to take account of inflation, they also have their particular demands, such as equal pay, an end to sex discrimination in pay and benefits, job security for women who take maternity leave, nurseries to support factories or workshops, banning the obligatory Islamic dress in place of work where it endangers women workers and freedom of choice of dress.

Women workers of our country demand the freedom of trade union activists and all political prisoners. They know well that without the workers and trade union movement they will not be able to defend their political and trade union rights and to end the exploitation and class and sex discrimination perpetrated against them. For this reason working women like working men, demand their right to strike and to achieve their trade union rights, and true and independent trade unions; and they struggle to bring this about.

Excerpts from MaZanan 01.05.2016

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