Global Policy Forum

Iraqi Oil Minister Enforces Saddam Law on Trade Unions

August 2, 2007

In a disturbing development, the Iraqi Oil Minister, Mr. Hussein Shahrastani, has effectively ordered his ministry to apply a 1987 law issued under Saddam to ban the 26,000 member Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU). This is the clear meaning of the Ministry directive couched in terms of merely applying an earlier instruction not to recognize unregistered NGOS. A copy of the ministry's directive was obtained by the union and sent to Naftana*.

The directive, dated 18 July 2007, states: ‘The minister has directed that all members of all unions be banned from participating in any committee if they use their union identification, since these unions have no legal status to work within the state sector. They should not be permitted to use the offices and equipment of the [ministry's] companies, because they do not have legal status within the state sectors.' All necessary measures should be taken to implement the minister's directive within a maximum of two weeks, it concluded.

In a message to Naftana, the union's president, Hassan Juma`a, affirmed that the union would not recognize the minister's decision, stressing that the oil minister has been fighting against trade union work because of the patriotic stands of the IFOU. "We are working for Iraq," he declared. In flagrant violation of the principle of free association, the governments since occupation have continued to treat all trade unions as illegal, until such time as a ‘legal framework is enacted'. Thus the Oil Minister's directive follows US Administrator L Paul Bremer's Public Notice Regarding Organization in the Workplace, issued on June 6 2003, which upheld Saddam's infamous decree 150 of 1987 that banned all trade union activity by deeming workers in the state sectors to be ‘civil servants' without the right to organize. It should be remembered that, in spite of strenuous efforts by the occupying powers to privatize the Iraqi economy, the overwhelming majority of Iraq's industrial workers belong to the state sector.

Last year the government froze the assets and bank accounts of the oil workers' union along with that of all other unions. The minister's new directive is seen by the union as a preemptive measure to weaken the union's highly successful campaign against the proposed oil law, which was instigated and is being imposed on Iraq by the occupation governments. The proposed law, popularly known in Iraq as the ‘thieves' law', has attracted the hostility of Iraqi workers and technical oil experts alike. Popular opposition is such that the government has failed to meet several deadlines laid down for it by the Bush administration and US Congress to enact the law.

We call on all trade unions and supporters of democratic rights to protest the Iraqi government's dictatorial measures and to support the IFOU and Iraq's workers in their struggle for freedom and democracy.

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