Police arrested more than 30 protesters on the fourth day of a strike by hundreds of workers on February 4, 2018, at a major sugar plant near the city of Shush, in Iran’s Khuzestan Province.
In a video message posted on his Telegram channel on February 4, 2018, prominent labor activist Jafar Azimzadeh said the workers at the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Agro-Industrial Company were being treated like slaves.
“Where in the world have you seen workers not being paid their wages that are four times below the poverty line, and then ask the special [security] forces to force them to work. This is slavery,” he wrote.
The detainees were released after being questioned for five hours and cases were opened against them, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned.
A Haft Tappeh worker told CHRI that the strike, a continuation of others from last year, is aimed at obtaining months of unpaid wages.
“This company used to be owned by the state but now it has been handed over to the private sector and the new employer does not like to pay the workers’ salaries,” said the source, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, on February 5.
Continued the source: “Since 2015, we have been owed three or four months [in wages]. After we protested, they paid us for one month that we were owed but then we weren’t paid for the following month. The workers and our families are tired of this situation.”
“Right now, Haft Tappeh’s 5,000 workers are owed at least two months’ pay, and some of them three or four months, just in this year [ending March 21, 2018],” added the source. “When we protest, they deal with us with the police and the courts.”
The source has not been paid since November 2017.
“The company’s directors have told police that there are only 50 saboteurs among the workers and if they are arrested and intimidated, peace will return to the plant,” said the source.
“First of all, this is a lie because all the workers are upset,” added the source. “Their children are hungry and there’s not enough money to buy school supplies. Second, don’t we have the right to demand our salaries?”
In August 2017, more than 50 workers at the plant were summoned without charge to the courthouse in Shush for taking part in peaceful protests.
A statement by “a group of oppressed Haft Tappeh workers” released on August 7, 2017, said the vice president of the company, Siamak Afshar, had provided a list of names to the authorities.
“The summons issued against the Haft Tappeh workers states that there has been a complaint against them from the police,” said the statement.
“However, we all know that the police are receiving favors from the company’s vice president and he is the one who gave these workers’ names to the prosecution,” added the statement.
Haft Tappeh began operations under state control in 1961. Its current annual sugar production capacity is estimated at 100,000 metric tons.