Killing of striking workers in Kerman Province

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), which represents more than 151 million workers through its 233 affiliated trade union centres in 151 countries and territories worldwide would like to express its extreme concern over the killing of at least four workers and the injuries inflicted on 40 or more workers in the village of Khatoonabad and the city of Shahr-e Babak (Kerman Province) on Saturday 24 January 2004. The names of four of the dead workers are reportedly as follows: Mahdavi, Javadi, Momeni and Riyahi.

According to our information, the workers were a mixed group of unskilled workers, construction workers and other skilled workers employed in the construction of the Nazkhatonís Copper Smelting plant in the
village of Khatoonabad. Their employer, a subcontractor that had built the smelting plant for the National Iranian Copper Industries Company in cooperation with China's National Non-Ferrous Metals Co., had reportedly promised permanent contracts to the 1500 workers who had participated in the construction and preparation of the smelting plant. However, once the construction had finished, the employer only kept 250 workers. The workers therefore went on strike.

The workers had organised work stoppages and a sit-in at the plant in the days up to 24 January. The sit-in had lasted 8 days before violence broke out. Many workers and their families, including many elderly women, had attended the protest and had been blocking the main road leading to the plant and the main entrance of the plant. They were demanding permanent contracts and were protesting against the use of temporary contracts, layoffs and deferred payment of salaries and benefits.

We understand that due to the persistence of the sit-in and the protest, the province security council, on which the governor of Kerman province, Mr. Karimi and the governor of Shahr-e Babak city, Seifollah Shahad-Nejad have seats, had decided to dispatch more security forces to the area. Special police forces were consequently brought in from
Kerman city in helicopters to break the strike, and they used force against the protesting workers in front of the plant. The confrontation subsequently spread to the city of Shahr-e Babak. The police opened fire during the confrontation and at least four workers were killed in front of the plant and dozens wounded. Some of the wounded were hospitalised in Surcheshmeh and in the city of Shahr-e Babak, some in a critical condition. General (Sardar) Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (Head of Iranís Security Forces) later confirmed that the police had fired the shots that killed the striking workers.

Local people subsequently gathered in front of the residences of the dead workers, demanding that those responsible for their deaths be held to account. Protests and confrontations with police reportedly continued over the following days, leading to the arrest of workers and their relatives. According to the commanding officer of the security forces of
Kerman province, General Isa Darayee, 80 people were arrested during this incident and 15 were kept for interrogation.

As you undoubtedly know,
Iran is under an obligation to respect the fundamental right of workers to freedom of association, by virtue of its membership of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The government of Iran therefore has a responsibility to prevent police from killing and injuring workers exercising the legitimate right to strike.

The ICFTU urges your government to ensure the release of all workers and their relatives arrested in connection to the events of 24 January.

We also call on your government to identify and prosecute those responsible for the death of the striking workers.
Moreover, we urge you to order an independent and impartial investigation into the matter and publicly announce the findings of the investigation. The ICFTU is concerned that the investigation you have ordered by a delegation from your Office would not be seen to be independent and impartial by the international community. The same concern applies to the investigations reportedly undertaken by the Interior Ministry and Kerman Governorís General Office.
Furthermore, we call on your government to ensure the respect in future of workersí fundamental right to strike.

Finally, the ICFTU would like to inform you that, in view of the gravity of these events, the ICFTU has no choice but to lodge a complaint against the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran with the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association.

I would appreciate it, Mr. President, if you could kindly keep me informed of any action you may be taking concerning the matters described above.

Thanking you in advance,

Yours sincerely,
General Secretary