War on Workers

In Iran, workers are central victims of the Iranian regime’s dismal human rights record. 

According to Amnesty International, “independent unions in Iran are banned, workers have few legal rights or protections, and union activists are regularly beaten, arrested, jailed and tortured.” Iran’s Labor Code does not grant citizens the right to form independent unions, despite Iran’s ratification of the UN’s International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and membership in the International Labor Organization. 

Those who support the fundamental rights of workers—to assemble freely, protest unfair conditions, collectively bargain, receive fair contracts, and form independent unions—must stand against the abuses of the Iranian regime.

Chapter VI of Iran’s Labor Code grants workers the right to form “Islamic associations” and “guild societies,” subject to the “approval of the Council of Ministers.” These deliberately vague terms constitute a de facto denial of the right to form independent labor unions. Iran is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO), but has not ratified two core conventions that guarantee freedom of association and the right to organize. However, the ILO’sDeclaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work states that “All members, even if they have not ratified the Conventions in question, have an obligation arising from the very fact of membership in the Organization, to respect, to promote, and to realize these core conventions.” 

Iran is also a party to the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees freedom of association. Articles 26 and 27 of the Iranian Constitution also guarantee freedom of association, putting Iran’s labor policies at odds with its own laws. The Islamic associations approved by the Labor Code are chiefly ideological, and have no function as defenders of worker’s rights. They fall under the jurisdiction of the Worker’s House, a state-sponsored labor organization beholden to the government. Both bodies have established a firm track record in favor of management (International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran).


Labor activists who have attempted to organize unions or strikes have been met with harsh reprisals by the state. The situation has grown even tenser in the last five years due to the attempted re-formation of the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company.

On May Day in 2009, state authorities violently arrested over 100 demonstrating workers, and prominent labor activist Farzad Kamangar was placed on death row. Kamangar was executed on May 9, 2010. Currently, four prominent union activists remain in prison – Osanloo, Ali Nejati, Ebrahim Madadi, and Mohsen Hakimi (International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran).

Transportation workers

In recent years, the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (UWTSBC) has become the de facto leader of the Iranian labor movement; their repression at the hands of the government reflects the insurmountable difficulties in forming independent labor unions in Iran. In 2004, the union was unofficially reconstituted, and in 2005, their leader, Mansour Ossanlu, was imprisoned and beaten by state authorities. In 2007, he was charged for “acts against national security” and handed a five-year sentence. Members of the UWTSBC who protested Ossanlu’s imprisonment were subjected to a fierce crackdown that resulted in 500 arrests. The union remains unrecognized, and so far, 54 workers have been fired for their membership in UWTSBC. 


In recent years, teachers’ associations have become a central target for government repression. Police have initiated crackdowns on teachers who have been found to belong to these associations, or who have publicly celebrated May Day, World Teacher’s Day, or National Teacher’s Day. These crackdowns have taken the form of arrests, beatings, interrogations, prison sentences, and pay cuts. 

In 2007, following a series of teacher protests, the Iranian government banned independent teachers’ associations. Activists were detained and charged with crimes, while many ordinary teachers suffered pay cuts and were forced into retirement. Government prosecution and pressure from the state intelligence service has forced most teachers’ associations out of existence, but the cities of Tehran, Isfahan, and Kermanshah are reported to still have active teachers’ associations (ITUC). 

On National Teacher’s Day of 2009, over 100 teachers were harassed and beaten by police for publicly celebrating the holiday. On World Teacher’s Day of 2009, police broke up a meeting of the Tehran Teacher’s Association, brought 11 teachers into custody, and charged the Association’s president, Aliakbar Baghani, with “celebrating World Teacher’s Day” (ITUC). Four teachers are currently in jail for alleged union-related activity: Esmael Abdi, Rasoul Bodaghi, Hashem Khastar, and Abdolreza Ghanbari. Ghanbari is currently on death row for “enmity towards God” School teacher and teachers’ association activist Farzad Kamangar was executed on May 9, 2010 (Education International).

Unpaid Wages

The failure of the state and private employers to pay wages on schedule, largely due to the regime’s economic mismanagement and growing international isolation—has recently become a touchstone for recurring worker demonstrations. For example,

in December 2009, over 500 employees of the Iran Telecommunications Industries protested publicly over wage arrears (PBS). In October 2010, workers at two factories went on strike to demand wages unpaid for three months. A factory employee stated that “the plant's retired workers have not received their pensions since last year -- they live in absolute poverty.” Such neglect and abuse of workers’ compensation is now prevalent throughout Iran. 

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