Iraqi Government risks clash at ILO next month
Despite the tide of change sweeping across the Arab world, the Iraqi government seems intent on undermining its trade union movement. The TUC will seek to block the Iraqi delegation at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in a few weeks if it doesn’t stop its attacks on Iraqi unions.
The developing situation in the Middle East and North Africa formed the backdrop to the most ILO governing body meeting. The new Egyptian labour minister and the leader of the Tunisian trade union federation addressed the meeting, setting out the central role trade unionists had played in the ‘Arab Spring’ in those countries and calling for progress on the recognition of worker’s rights across the region. Whilst great progress has been made, attempts at outright repression are still ongoing in many countries including; Bahrain, Libya and Syria and, despite its almost total absence from the news, Iraq.
As other countries in the region move towards the creation of genuinely independent workers organisations, Iraq under Prime Minister Al-Maliki is moving in the opposite direction. Despite a long running campaign by Iraqi trade unionists to reform the Saddam era labour laws and introduce a labour code which is compliant with ILO standards, the Iraqi government and in particular its labour ministry now controlled by the political followers of Moqtada al-Sadr are launching an all out attack on the independence of the largest Iraqi union organisation, the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW).
A ‘Ministerial Preparatory Committee’ has been appointed to take over all union structures and assets and ‘oversee’ forthcoming union elections, whilst the proposed draft labour law would block white collar workers from union membership. As Brendan Barber (TUC General Secretary) explained in the Guardian yesterday:
“This is a dangerous recipe for breaking apart one of the few institutions left that unites people across tribal, ethnic and religious boundaries, and which is committed to women’s rights and the creation of a peaceful and prosperous Iraq.”
These moves are also a flagrant breach of ILO conventions. Matters will come to a head at next month’s ILO International Labour Conference where the Iraqi government has indicated that it will appoint its own workers rep – in direct contravention of the ILO’s constitution, which states worker delegates must come from the most representative bodies in a country. As the UK workers rep on the governing body I will work alongside the GFIW and the International Trade Union Confederation to ensure that these fake delegates are blocked from taking part.
I would of course much rather see a full and representative Iraqi delegation take part in the conference, but unless the government changes its position this is not an option. Until we hear that the attacks on the GFIW have stopped we need as much publicity and pressure inside and outside Iraq as possible.
Our General Secretary has written to the Iraqi Prime Minister. Please add to the pressure by signing the Labour Start appeal calling on the Iraqi Prime Minister to back down and support for the rights of Iraqi workers.