Every year, World Day for Safety and Health at Work (April 28) and International Workers Day (May 1) serve as reminders of the untold suffering of 26 million Iranian workers, particularly women. Iran’s female workers are those whose living conditions, ruled by the corrupt and misogynistic mullahs, are worsening every day.
In villages, women have always done 80% of the work in agriculture, animal husbandry, and irrigation. However, these days, women are forced to take on challenging jobs as construction workers or laborers due to the lack of factories that would typically create jobs and hire workers. Moreover, terrible working conditions, the prevalence of poverty and deprivation, and the current economic situation and inflation have exacerbated women’s already difficult situations. When a woman is forced to be a kulbar (porter) or a construction worker, she is neither safe nor healthy. Nonetheless, the number of women engaging in these professions is increasing.
These hardships, along with the high number of Coronavirus-related casualties, have made life even more difficult for Iran’s female workers.
The regime has set the minimum wage for Iranian workers for the Persian year 1400 (beginning 21 March) at almost four times lower than the poverty line. Meanwhile:
- “The wealth of Khamenei’s economic institutions at his headquarters is equivalent to one trillion dollars” (The state-run Mostaghel Newspaper, June 1, 2020).
- “In the first 6 months of the Persian year 1399 (March-September 2020), steelmakers, petrochemical professionals, and mine owners received 600,000 billion tomans in rents” (The state-run Ressalat Daily – October 15, 2020).
- On the other hand, “about 9,800 production units” have been closed (The state-run Sharq daily – April 13, 2021).
Iran’s Female Workers Without Insurance, Deprived of Half the Labor Benefits
Iran’s female workers are hired informally to do back-breaking labor at meager wages. Their salaries do not cover even one-tenth of their living expenses. A day without work means a day without food. According to statistics compiled by government news agencies, 60% of employment in Iran is informal employment.
At a time when the Coronavirus is having a devastating effect on society, informal occupations are more at risk than formal occupations (The state-run ISNA News Agency – June 17, 2020).
In 2017, the financial institutions of the Social Security Research Organization announced that about 80% of the employees without insurance were women.
Iranian women workers are among the most vulnerable in the labor market. One million women were fired during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The poverty line for a family of 4 is 10 million tomans. “Last year, the workers’ living basket was set at 4,940,000 tomans,” but the minimum wage was much lower – equal to 1,835,426 tomans (The state-run Tasnim News Agency – December 28, 2020; Mohammad Shariatmadar, Minister of Labor in the Rouhani Government – April 9, 2020).
The wages of Iran’s female workers have always been significantly lower than those of men, and in this case, they also face double oppression.
Workers are no longer able to buy red meat or even white meat. These items are practically removed from their table; workers can only buy livestock and poultry bones (The state-run ILNA News Agency – November 24, 2020).
Women Porters (Kulbar)
In Kurdish areas, women have no choice but to work as kulbar (porters) and construction workers to support themselves and their families. There are no specific statistics on women porters. But the increase in their numbers in the border provinces of Kurdistan, West Azerbaijan, and Kermanshah has become commonplace (The state-run Asr-e Iran website – January 22, 2020).
Even in old age, women heads of household are forced to work as porters to support their families. Even educated women are forced to be porters, given the lack of available jobs. Here, too, women receive less money because they are less physically strong than their male counterparts.
Iran’s Female Workers in Brick Kilns
Working in kilns is another arduous task that working women – and even children – are forced to take on to make a living, even if it means working without a contract. There are more than 500 brick kilns in West Azerbaijan province. No occupational safety standards are recognized in these areas. Smoke from burning pottery causes respiratory and digestive problems. In traditional kilns, the sludge produces an unpleasant odor. Work machines are unsafe and outdated, and endanger workers’ health. Most workers have had work-related accidents, even in a short period of time. Employers refuse to provide even basic work gear such as boots, helmets, and gloves.
Most Iranian women workers are uninsured. Their contracts are verbal, and their daily workload is not calculated correctly. Employers do not keep their verbal promises and sometimes undercount the number of bricks that the workers handle. Workers with more than 20 years of experience are also ineligible for insurance. If their insurance is covered, the cost is deducted from their wages.
To reduce their insurance costs, employers fill out a list of five workers, omitting the workers’ personal details on the insurance form. If one of the workers has an accident, her details are entered to pretend that the worker was already insured! (The state-run Ettelaat Daily – November 10, 2020).
Workers’ wages are between 100,000 and 150,000 tomans per day, and they are not paid on holidays. Workers must work from 7 am to sunset. Despite the long work hours, workers cannot support themselves and their families. Workers must also bear the cost of transportation – a major issue given the long commuting distance from the city to the factory.
“Our salaries are very low in the face of high prices and inflation,” said Nashmil, a woman working in a brick kiln workshop. “We do not have an employment contract and we come to work by [verbal] agreement…There are no jobs in our region. So, I was forced to work here. I have developed a lumbar disc condition. For 6 months of the year, we sleep in the workshop dormitories, where we are deprived of clean drinking water, clean bathing facilities, and clean restrooms. This has led to our children becoming ill” (The state-run ILNA News Agency – April 19, 2021).
Safety at Work
Given labor circumstances, one can predict workers’ safety conditions at the workplace. “With regard to workers’ job-related injuries or deaths, the reported data are lower than the real situation…Nevertheless, 898 deaths in workplace accidents were registered from March to September 2019,” wrote the state-run Hamshahrionline.ir on April 29, 2020.
The Coroner’s organization, the Labor Ministry, and even the delegations that investigate complaints of job-related injuries each present separate data. Not a single investigative agency cares to collect accurate data or resolve the complaints. Employer-worker agreements are such that many accidents are not reported at all (The state-run ILNA news agency – August 5, 2020).
On April 19, 2021, three female workers burned to death during a fire at a furniture workshop in Keresht Pardis village. Mojtaba Khaledi, the spokesman for the National Emergency Organization, announced, “The workshop’s exit door caught on fire, and the workers had no way to escape. Three women and three men were killed.” Three additional workers were injured during this accident (The state-run ILNA News Agency, April 19, 2021).
Disregarding Hygiene Standards
The same inhumane practice is evident in how the regime has managed the COVID-19 pandemic. A Tehran municipality worker says that the municipality does not even provide masks for its workers. If the workers get sick, the municipality does not give them any assistance. He adds that if a worker gets sick and is hospitalized, the municipality does not even pay for medication…At present, several workers are ill and resting in the trailer, but no one has come to check on them. (mojahedin.org– April 27, 2021)
Haji Deligani, a member of the mullahs’ parliament, spoke on this issue, acknowledging, “We have COVID-19 patients who did not have insurance but had to go to the hospital. They were charged 9 million Tomans for 6 days of hospitalization” (The state-run Farhang Radio, April 15, 2020).