Charges against Iraqi union leader tossed International solidarity and oil worker unity defeat government repression
A joint statement by the Iraq Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI), AFL-CIO Solidarity Center
and U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW)
Months after the Iraq Ministry of Oil lodged a criminal complaint against Hassan Juma’a Awad, President of the Iraq Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU), the charges were finally heard by a Basra court. The July 1st hearing didn’t last long. In 30 minutes the court dismissed the charges that Hassan Juma’a had undermined the Iraqi economy by instigating strikes and work stoppages by oil workers to protest unresolved grievances, broken promises, safety violations, privatization of Iraq’s oil industry and refusal to respect worker and union rights. The judge had repeatedly (at least seven times) postponed the hearing to provide the attorney for South Oil Company, Hassan Juma’a’s employer, an opportunity to submit evidence of economic damage the company claimed had resulted from the worker actions. Neither the company nor the Ministry of Oil to which it is accountable as a public enterprise produced a shred of evidence. Instead, they claimed “moral damages.” The judge was not impressed. At the final hearing on Monday, July 1st, the company attorney and the prosecutor repeated their accusations against Hassan but again failed to produce any evidence to support their claims. Had he been convicted, Hassan Juma’a faced tens of thousands of dollars in fines and up to three years in prison. South Oil Company can appeal the decision but there is no longer a formal proceeding pending against Hassan Juma’a!
This represents an escalation in the government’s use of criminal statutes to harass union leaders for conduct arising out of the customary activities in which unions engage. Following the dismissal of charges, the IFOU released a statement acknowledging the key role of the international campaign that U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW), the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center and the Iraq Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI) organized to press the Iraqi government to abandon its effort to criminalize union organizing. The union said, “This is a victory for supporters of freedom of trade unions and freedom of association in Iraq and all over the world, it is the best proof that international solidarity is capable of reestablishing free and legal trade union work….We also reiterate our demand for a law which recognizes the right of trade union organization in the public sector, and our willingness to negotiate and cooperate with the authorities and governmental and international institutions seeking to ensure this right….[Full statement with Arabic original] Michael Eisenscher, USLAW National Coordinator, observed, “For more than ten years since the fall of the dictatorship, Iraqi workers have attempted to exercise internationally recognized labor rights to organize, bargain and act collectively in defense of their interests. Instead, the U.S. Occupation Authority, then Interim Governing Authority, and now the elected government of Iraq have resurrected a law and decrees put in place by Saddam Hussein to prevent public workers and employees of public enterprises – 80% of the Iraqi economy – from forming or joining a union or negotiating over the terms and conditions of their labor. They shamefully kept that law on the books and have actively enforced it against workers, all while preaching about the importance of establishing a democracy in Iraq. Iraq’s new constitution obligates it to recognize and protect those rights. Iraq is as signatory to International Labour Organization convention No. 98 which requires it to respect the right to organize and bargain as a treaty obligation under international law. Freedom of association and other basic labor rights are the bedrock for any democratic society. Without them there can be no real democracy. Despite threats, violence, assassinations, ransacked offices, seized equipment and files, and numerous other forms of repression and retaliation, Iraqi workers have organized and used their collective strength to extract concessions from their employers and the government without the protection of law. At the vanguard of this vibrant new Iraqi labor movement has been the Iraq Federation of Oil Unions and its President, Hassan Juma’a Awad. The government sought to make an example of him as a warning to other workers who dare to exercise their rights. It failed.“ Speaking for the ICSSI, Ismaeel Dawood said, “This was the first time this legislation was used to persecute an Iraqi trade unionist in this way and our victory sets an important precedent. International solidarity and messages addressed to the ministry and the prime minister had a significant impact on the verdict.This victory would not have been possible without the concerted international solidarity campaign that drew support from an unprecedented constellation of international and national labor federations, national unions, local and regional labor organizations and allied NGOs (listed below).” IndustriALL, the global industrial union federation to which the IFOU is affiliated, issued a statement following the hearing which said: “This case underlines the importance of the international campaign for a just labour law in Iraq. Repressive Saddam-era labour legislation has to be replaced through a process that includes national trade unions and establishes laws in line with international standards and fundamental principles of the ILO.” Another organization that played a central role in the international campaign is the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center, which has provided training and support to Iraqi unions throughout and since the occupation. Erin Radford, the Center’s program officer for Iraq, observed, “There will be other targets of employer and state repression in Iraq who will need and who will get our support. Solidarity Center, USLAW, the Iraq Civil Society Solidarity Initiative, IndustriALL and the 150 other international, national and local labor organizations and NGOs from 24 countries that helped Hassan Juma’a will continue to work together to support and defend basic labor and union rights of Iraqi workers. For us, ‘An injury to one is an injury to all’ is more than a slogan. International labor solidarity is not charity. It reflects the mutual self-interest of working people around the world.” ### Released: July 11, 2013 Contacts:
– Michael Eisenscher (USLAW-Oakland, CA) nationalcoordinator @ uslaboragainstwar.org
Ismaeel Dawood (ICSSI-Italy) ismaeel.dawood @ unponteper.it
Erin Radford (Solidarity Center-Washington, DC) Eradford @ Solidaritycenter.org
Hassan Juma’a Awad (IFOU-Basra) hj-awad @ hotmail.com See also : Text of Open Letter to Nouri Al Maliki, Prime Minister
To His Excellency Mr. Nouri Al Maliki Prime Minister of Iraq Baghdad-Iraq
We are deeply concerned about the continuing violations of union rights and freedoms in Iraq, in particular in the oil sector. Hassan Juma Awad, Chairman of the Federation of Oil Unions, has been summoned before the Basra Court, on March 20, where he will face charges of organizing a strike at the Southern Oil Company. However, Hassan Juma Awad declares that these charges are false and that he is being accused as part of a Ministry of Oil effort to slander and undermine him and the unions. Also, eight Southern Oil Company workers have been summoned to the General Inspector’s Office in the Ministry of Oil in order for the Ministry to investigate their role in recent demonstrations in Basra, where workers engaged in peaceful protest to express their legitimate demands. The Iraqi constitution guarantees freedom of association and peaceful demonstrations, yet over the years, the Ministry of Oil has repeatedly taken disciplinary actions against union activists, including transferring them to distant work sites, reprimanding them, filing criminal complaints against them and imposing heavy fines and penalties on them. The Ministry has banned union organizing at the companies affiliated to it, which is also a violation of ILO convention 98, which Iraq has ratified. These attacks on freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively reflect the government of Iraq’s intention to hold on to repressive laws and policies issued under the Saddam Hussein regime. Decree 150 of 1987, which bans union organizing in the public sector, is clear evidence of that, as is the continued enforcement of labor law number 71 and the union organizing law number 52 of 1987, both of which are in contradiction with ILO conventions and international labor standards, though Iraq has ratified sixty six international labor conventions. The Iraqi government’s continued repression of freedom of association and worker rights, based on laws issued under a dictatorship, is in direct contradiction with the principals of democracy and justice that the Iraqi government promises its people.
The government of Iraq should immediately cancel the orders issued by the Ministry of Oil to union activists, including all transfer orders, reprimands and arbitrary penalties against union activists. Charges against Hassan Juma Awad, and any other workers who have had retaliatory legal action taken against them, should be dropped. All workers, including public sector workers, must be permitted to freely join trade unions, without government interference in union activities. All workers must be guaranteed freedom of association and freedom of expression.
Finally, we urge you to act to expedite the passage of the new labor law, in compliance with International labor standards, allowing all workers the right to join unions and bargain collectively. We look forward to your positive response on these urgent and important matters.
Signatories to the International Solidarity Letter “see the link here”