Founded half-a-century ago in the southern city of Shush, in Khuzestan Province, the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Mill is the oldest sugar factory in Iran.
Since the privatization of the factory in a questionable 2015 privatization deal, the condition of workers has worsened. They have said that since the transfer of ownership to the present owners, the company’s debts have increased, with the employer only thinking of reducing the permanent work force.
Accusing the government of supporting the wealthy, the workers complain they have become poorer while the managers of the company have become richer.
Trade unionist Jafar Azimzadeh, the leading member of the Free Union of Workers in Iran, described the workers’ condition as “slavery.”
“The families of some workers have to buy bread on credit, because of unpaid salaries and if this situation continues, even bakeries will refuse to sell bread to the workers on credit,” he said, explaining the plight of workers who have not received their wages for months.
Under such financial strain, some workers of Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Mill have even reached the point of committing suicide.
Ali Naghdi was the latest instance whose dead body was found afloat in a canal on February 27. It was said that Naghdi committed suicide due to his debts as the company refused to pay his wages.
Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Mill workers have always had to fight for their wages, pensions and rights in the past years.
In recent months, they have been going on strikes periodically, protesting unfulfilled promises made by their employer.
The last time the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Mill workers went on strike was in mid-August when 500 workers protested not being paid for at least three months. Reports indicate that riot police attacked the striking workers with tear gas and beat the protesters. Five workers were also detained but were later released after being charged with “disrupting order”.
This was not an isolated case of persecution against these workers. Iranian officials have in the past also responded with force, arresting leaders and members of the Haft Tappeh Workers’ Union.
At least 100 workers of Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Mill have been summoned or detained only for speaking out and demanding their rights.