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Iraqi workers demand their rights

Workers in Iraq have launched a campaign to see their fundamental rights at work respected, and to be able to set up and to join free and independent trade unions. EI is encouraging all affiliates to support this momentum by calling on the new government to introduce labour laws that meet international standards.

Almost seven years after the fall of the Saddam’s regime, many laws remain in situ which render it impossible for Iraqi trade unions to organise and bargain on behalf of their members. For example, workers in the public sector cannot join unions, while some trade union assets have been frozen by the Government, whereas others have been vulnerable to attempted Government take over. Despite new laws being drafted they have been caught up in a complex web of political opposition. EI is clear that reform is needed because current laws undermine the contribution that democratic and independent trade unions can make to Iraq’s fledgling democracy. In spite of significant personal risk, workers and trade unionists across Iraq – from Basra to Iraqi Kurdistan – and it’s religious, political, ethnic and geographic divides, have come together to urge the government to reform the labour laws. Speaking in support of the Iraqi workers’ demands, EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, said: "Education International has passed a resolution urging the Iraqi authorities to guarantee the right of Iraqi teachers and workers to organise and bargain collectively. The Government has been very slow in responding and it is high time that it took action on these issues to restore trade union rights in Iraq." The campaign for labour law reforms has achieved early success as 85 Members of Parliament have signed the appeal, along with the then President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, the Oil Minister and many community organisations and business leaders. The parliamentary drafting committee has also consulted with the campaign’s coordinating group, the National Labour Campaign Committee (NLCC), and MPs continue for the legislation to be debated in Parliament. However, in a stark reminder of why fair labour law standards are needed, a governmental committee set up to oversee trade union elections attempted to replace the legitimate leadership of the Iraqi Teacher’s Union (ITU) with its own stooges. This move was in clear violation of national court rulings, the Iraqi Constitution, and the ILO Convention on Freedom of Association. With a new government being formed at present the Iraqi trade unions want to raise the profile of the campaign to make it a top legislative priority. International solidarity is critical to achieve this. As one campaigner, Hashmeya Muhsin, from the Electricity Workers’ Union in Basra stated: “International solidarity matters in such a campaign. We need it to pressure the Iraqi government to legislate a new, fair and just labour law.” EI encourages all affiliates to show support by signing the international call for a fair and just labour law: http://www.iraqitradeunions.org/cgi-bin/campaign1.cgi

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