International News: SW Iran sugarcane workers hold 27th day of strike action for wages

Sugarcane workers in southwestern Iran have taken strike action for the past 27 days to demand their unpaid wages.

The workers from the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company in Shush say they have not received their wages for two to three months. They are also demanding better work conditions, the return of laid-off workers who were fired for protesting, an extension of their insurance booklets, and the return of the company to the public sector.

Videos have been posted online showing hundreds of workers marching on the street chanting against regime officials. The sugarcane workers started initially took strike action on June 14. Sugarcane workers say that they can barely make ends meet and chant “we are hungry” during their protests. During previous protests, workers even said that they had to “borrow” bread from bakeries.

Two years ago during their last strike action, a number of sugarcane workers were detained, tortured, and persecuted for demanding their rights.

The CEO of the company, Omid Assadbeigi is currently being tried for currency misconduct. During the trial, Assadbeigi said he had bribed the current governor of Khuzestan by giving his wife $200,000.

Khuzestan’s Governor, Gholamreza Shariati has denied the accusation. 

The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), a global union federation that represents 10 million workers expressed solidarity with Haft Tappeh sugarcane workers last month.

“As always, the IUF stands in full solidarity with the workers and their union and calls on the government to act immediately to ensure full payment of all wages and social security benefits, proper workplace protective measures and full access to health services for all workers and family members,” the IUF wrote in a June 17 report on its website.

Haft Tappeh Sugarcane company timeline

Founded in 1961, the company made a record production of 100,000 tons of white sugar in 2002.

Haft Tappeh suffered a severe recession during the Ahmadinejad administration in 2006 when the regime’s Supreme Leader Khamenei eliminated the tariffs for sugar imports. The sugarcane workers staged protests the following year.  

In 2012, the company was reconstructed with refurbished equipment aimed at increasing sugar production.

In January 2016 two young men, Mehrdad Rostami and Omid Assadbeigi who owned Zenus and Ariak Ltd. bought the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane complex at around one tenth of the actual price for 218 billion tomans in an auction.

The 24,000 hectare Haft Tappeh Sugarcane complex went into ruin after it was privatized.  

In 2017, workers came out in force to protest the privatization of the company arguing that there were huge amounts of money being embezzled behind the scene.

In 2018, the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane factory CEO Assadbeigi was said to have run off after being charged with currency misconduct. He is currently standing trial.

The workers once again started a strike in November 2018 for 25 days in protest to not receiving four months of their wages and the privatization of the company. The contract for this massive complex has not been made public. It is not clear why the large factory was handed over to two young inexperienced men, who according to workers, did not know the first thing about sugarcane production.