By Adena Nima
Seven workers of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Factory in the southwestern city of Shush were sentenced to eight months of suspended prison and 30 lashes each.
According to the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Syndicate, the workers were tried and sentenced by the 102nd Branch of the Shush Criminal Court.
The report said that 10 other workers from the factory would be tried tomorrow by the same court. Another worker was also summoned.
One of the charges brought against the 10 workers is “disrupting public order by leading and being present in illegal gatherings and preventing the company’s activities”.
The Syndicate also said that workers have been summoned for charges such as “publishing messages on the internet”.
The report said that a worker was summoned a few months ago for calling the company CEO a liar in a Telegram channel.
The workers have not been identified.
The Iranian government does not recognize workers’ rights to organize even though they have months of unpaid wages and say that their basic demands have not been met.
Last November, workers of the Haft Tappeh factory held gatherings, streets marches and protests for more than 20 consecutive days. They were protesting not receiving their paychecks and the privatization of the factory.
Many activists are still languishing in prison.
Workers are banned from demanding their rights in Iran even while Iranian workers have lost more than 57% of their purchasing power according to recent studies and can barely provide their basic needs.
Founded half-a-century ago in the southern city of Shush, in Khuzestan Province, the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company is the oldest sugar factory in Iran. Some 5,600 workers are currently working at the company.
Since the privatization of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Factory in a questionable 2015 privatization deal, the condition of workers has worsened. They have said that since the transfer of ownership to the present owners, the company’s debts have increased, with the employer only thinking of reducing the permanent workforce.
Accusing the government of supporting the wealthy, the workers complain they have become poorer while the managers of the company have become richer.
Trade unionist Jafar Azimzadeh, the leading member of the Free Union of Workers in Iran, described the workers’ condition as “slavery.”
“The families of some workers have to buy bread on credit, because of unpaid salaries and if this situation continues, even bakeries will refuse to sell bread to the workers on credit,” he said, explaining the plight of workers who have not received their wages for months.
Under such financial strain, some workers have even reached the point of committing suicide.
Ali Naghdi was the latest instance whose dead body was found afloat in a canal on February 27. It was said that Naghdi committed suicide due to his debts as the company refused to pay his wages.
Haft Tappeh workers have always had to fight for their wages, pensions and rights in the past years.
In mid-August 2018, 500 workers protested not being paid for at least three months. Reports indicate that riot police attacked the striking workers with tear gas and beat the protesters. Five workers were also detained but were later released after being charged with “disrupting order”.
This was not an isolated case of persecution against these workers. Iranian officials have in the past also responded with force, arresting leaders and members of the Haft Tappeh Workers’ Syndicate.
At least 100 workers of Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company have been summoned or detained only for speaking out and demanding their rights.