Workplace safety another concern

Workers across Iraq demand justice, fair wages on May Day

NEWSROOM — Despite International Workers’ Day being a public holiday across Iraq and Kurdistan, many workers still reported to their jobs today to support their families.

Many who observe the day were either at work or on the lookout, hoping to find employment.

In interviews with 964media, workers in Erbil shared their thoughts on the day. Generally, they indicated that the holiday held little significance for them, and they felt compelled to work daily. “We can’t afford to rest,” one worker said.

The workers also demonstrated limited awareness of labor laws and their rights.

Star Abdullah, who has been a laborer for over 30 years, noted that if workers get sick or injured on the job, employers typically do not take responsibility. “Most likely, they will avoid it, and you have to cover your own expenses,” he said.

Similarly, workers in Sulaymaniyah voiced concerns on International Workers’ Day about their lack of knowledge regarding labor laws.

Some workers told 964media they have been employed for years but are unfamiliar with how labor laws function. They feel their rights are overlooked, leaving them without protection.

Rabar Sadiq, a construction worker, told 964media, “I don’t know anything about the labor laws and have no knowledge about them. Nothing has been done for the workers. No rights have been granted to workers. Up until now, no one has approached us and said, ‘These are your rights.'”

Peshawa Rozgar, another construction worker, said, “In reality, there is no familiarity with the labor laws. Even if we know them, the laws in Kurdistan are completely neglected.”

Another worker highlighted that missing a single day of work directly impacts their livelihood, compelling them to work daily.

At 17, Mohammed Abdul Karim has spent three years working in a garage that separates metals and plastics from bins in the Kurdistan neighborhood of Kirkuk.

Mohammed works every day from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., earning only between 10,000 and 15,000 Iraqi dinars ($7.6 to $11), a difficult amount to live on.

He told 964media, “What matters most is that I’m happy with the money I earn, and I don’t need to beg anyone else. If I get the chance, I will go back to school to complete my education.”

He added that sometimes valuable equipment can be found among the garbage and waste, not because it’s broken, but simply because it’s outdated.

Mohammed Abdul Karim, a young man who works in separating iron from plastic. Photo: 964media

Mohammed Abdul Karim, a young man who works in separating iron from plastic. Photo: 964media

In the first quarter of 2024, 19 workers across the region died in various workplace incidents, according to the latest figures released by the Kurdistan Construction Workers’ Organization.

On Tuesday night, the eve of International Workers’ Day, a Syrian worker was fatally injured by a falling object while working on a construction project in Sulaymaniyah. The worker, a 24-year-old man, was struck by a metal bar on the 25th floor of the Weiss Tower project and later died from his injuries at the hospital, Osman Zendani, head of the Sulaymaniyah Construction Workers’ Organization, reported. Zendani criticized the project for “significant shortcomings in safety measures” and noted that another metal bar had fallen at the same site just two days prior due to inadequate safety protocols.

In Karbala, education employees and municipal workers organized a protest that began on Wednesday, coinciding with International Workers’ Day. They demanded a fair salary structure and access to housing plots similar to those offered to other government employees. The demonstrators gathered at Education Square before marching to the governorate building.

Haider Al-Moussawi, a member of the Coordinating Committee of the protest, called on Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ Al-Sudani to fulfill his pre-office promise to amend laws to support employees and establish a fair salary scale. “It’s unacceptable that an employee or worker spends half of their life in government service and cannot have a decent life,” he stated.

Jasim Shaker, a municipal employee in Karbala, told 964media, “I have served in the municipality for 20 years and only earn a salary of 318,000 dinars ($241), without getting our entitlements like housing plots and vacations, as other government employees do.”

A view of the education employees and municipal workers' protest in Karbala

A view of the education employees and municipal workers' protest in Karbala

Ali Nasser, another municipal worker in Karbala, told 964media, “Municipal workers will be killed by hunger if things continue like this. Our protests are peaceful, and through them, we demand justice and fairness.”

“Why should an employee earn 170,000 dinars ($128) when his counterpart in another institution receives 1.5 million dinars ($1138)?” Nasser questioned.

“We don’t know how to pay rent and provide for household essentials with the high prices,” he added.

Similarly, hundreds of employees from several ministries protested on Wednesday morning in the Bab Al-Sharqi area in central Baghdad. They demanded a new salary scale law, the application of labor laws, and wage and job opportunity equality between women and men.

Protesters gathered in Tahrir Square and then marched to Al-Shawwaf Garden before returning to Tahrir. They carried banners summarizing their demands for fairness for workers inside and outside government institutions.

Amin Yassin, one of the protesters, told 964media, “On International Workers’ Day, we came out today to raise the voice of the labor force that still struggles to achieve justice in a country rich in resources, yet these resources are not fairly distributed among employees and workers.”

“We want a free trade union movement that calls for our rights, and we want a just state that is fair to its employees and the labor force from among its people. We don’t want big differences between employees or discrimination between institutions,” he added.

Alia Al-Moussawi, one of the protesters, told 964media, “We participated in the demonstration to raise the voice of working women. Today, they work at the level of men and sometimes more, but they earn less and have fewer employment opportunities.”

“Adjusting the salary scale is essential because it should be fair for all employees, regardless of gender,” she concluded.