By Staff Writer
Once again, there is trouble at the Hepco industrial complex in the central city of Arak, where workers blocked and disrupted the Iran North-South railway for several hours on May 14th. State-run news agencies ILNA and IRNA reported that they demanded overdue wages and protested conditions at their factory, as they have not been paid for three months.
Arak city councilor Morteza Souraneh said in an interview with pro-reformist website Etemad Online, “The workers’ overdue wages are not considerable, but they are worried since the factory’s production unit has been shut down and its production line has been halted.”
The government-affiliated Privatization Organization fired and replaced Hepco’s manager following protests last year, but according to the head of the semiofficial union Workers House, Davoud Mirza’ei, “A number of the workers have opposed the newly appointed director and argue that he might also be incapable of managing the industrial complex.”
Hepco (Heavy Equipment Production Company) is a lucrative industrial complex that was founded before the 1979 revolution. Hepco was privatized last year, and labor rights activists say the workers’ difficulties began right after the privatization. Thousands of workers were let go, and many employees lost their health insurance and pension benefits.
“8,000 workers used to work at the Hepco industrial complex before its privatization. Now, only 1,000 of them are left,” reported Iran’s Free Trade Union on its Telegram channel.
Workers’ protests at the Hepco complex have been met with violence, in the past. Media reports, photos and video clips published on social media, document this. In September 2017 anti-riot police attacked workers at Hepco and another recently privatized industrial complex in Arak, Azarab, and arrested several protesters.
Part of Hepco’s problem is that that the government canceled its contracts with the complex and stopped buying its products. Now, Roads and Urban Development Minister Abbas Akhoundi reported that his department, along with the Interior Ministry, had delivered a proposal to President Hassan Rouhani’s administration to buy Hepco’s products.
Hepco workers, however, point out that similar promises, including those made by Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare Minister Ali Rabiei, have never been fulfilled.
Following its privatization in 2007, Hepco has been the subject of protests. The protests gained momentum when hundreds of workers made a human chain around the city’s main square on February 5th, to protest living conditions and demand months of back pay.
Chants of, “We will not live under the burden of tyranny” were heard, as well as “Down with labor; hail to the tyrant” which was addressed to Rabiei.
In recent years the number of protests has significantly increased, as workers are upset with minimal wages that are only paid after long delays.
Security forces try to suppress workers’ demonstrations with force and arrests of the suspected organizers. Still, this policy has not been successful in curbing the protests.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has accused “the enemies” of fomenting discord among Iran’s work force and said, “One of the major activities of our enemies has been to create a recession and obstacles in our factories and among our groups of laborers — particularly the big ones — so they can provoke the workers.” The “enemy,” as a rule, is a word used by Iranian authorities to describe the National Council of Resistance of Iran and its main force, the people’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MPOI/MEK).