The Poor Face a Logjam in the Labyrinths of Work

Translator’s Note: The official unemployment rate in Iran stands at 18%. Unofficial rates however are as high as 40%. The official minimum wage is $263 per month, and the legal working day should not exceed 8 hours or a total of 44 hours for 5.5 days. (1) Many of the unemployed have no choice but to accept lower wages and longer working hours. Below are large excerpts from a report by the reformist Iranian Labor News Agency, which describes the types of jobs, wages and working hours that unemployed Iranians are forced to accept.

For more information about poverty in Iran and about the history of the Iranian Labor News Agency, please see my translator’s note to the article entitled “Poverty Line: A ‘Hoax?” (2)

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The Poor Face a Logjam in the Labyrinths of Work

Author: Unknown


Translated by Frieda Afary

October 21, 2009

When you get lost in the commotion of the city, it is only the workers who can show you extreme pain and expose you to the unsavory smell of life. Believe me, this is true. Given the current Iranian economy, being a worker is very difficult. It permanently exposes you to the bitter taste of life.

Of course the road is open to everyone. Anyone who is unemployed can experience what it is like to be a worker for a while. In this city [Tehran –tr.] there are jobs that await the unemployed.

These are jobs that are not covered by labor laws, insurance and the minimum wage, i.e. issues which continue to be the subject of a battle between workers and employers. These are neither underground and illegal jobs offered unbeknownst to the government, nor part-time jobs for which wages and benefits do not fall under the government’s jurisdiction. These are jobs advertised daily in the job advertisement pages of Tehran’s morning newspapers. Job seekers search them in the hope of finding a job. Perhaps hundreds of managers and employed people glance at them without any interest.

Job seekers however, continue to dial eight-digit telephone numbers. Upon discovering that wages and benefits are not even at the minimum level, they hang up and test their fortune again by trying another job advertisement. If a long search for work, forces them to forego the minimum wage and health insurance requirements, they join all the other job seekers who have given up on the minimum wage. They obtain the employer’s address and fill out the job application without any hope.

All of this in order to work from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at a clothes packaging workshop in exchange for $180 to $200 per month, or in order to work at a similar workshop, where justice is slightly more observed as it concerns worker’ wages, and where they can work for ten hours a day and earn $220 per month, with the hope of getting health insurance after a year.

It is not only the packaging companies that reveal this lack of regard for the rights and benefits of workers. Sales clerks at clothing stores, cosmetic stores and medical equipment stores, and in general all sales clerks are not exceptions to the rule. The unemployed who do not have production skills and have good oral skills, are part of the above category.

An inexperienced sales clerk who works 12 hours a day, receives $120 to $140 per month. Experienced sales clerks receive $200 to $250 per month. If they are skilled and can demonstrate good sales in their monthly work record, they receive a commission as well. However, there is no health insurance.

The situation is much worse for the typists. The pay for each typed page is 12 cents. A hired typist sits and types at a computer monitor from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. At most, she or he makes $230 per month.

Unskilled workers are also not immune from this lawlessness. During the last few and first few months of each years, determining the minimum wage for workers turns into a great battle between workers and employers. Various meetings are held at the Supreme Council for Labor in order to arrive at a single figure. Workers and employers each struggle to increase or decrease the wages on the basis of their interests. Unskilled workers do not benefit from this battle. They receive the $8 per day laborer’s wage. Taking into account the four monthly days off, their wages amount to $208 per month. A worker who pastes shoe parts 12 hours a day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. receives $10 per day.

The term employee, may imply more optimism about the wages. However, the wages are no better. Computer-savvy employees who work for 12 hours a day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at an internet café, receive $200 per month. An office employee who works eight hours a day, receives $200 per month and a 15% commission.

Although, job advertisements list the wage of a secretary as $300 per month and sometimes even $300 to $500 per month, secretaries often do not receive an adequate wage. They receive $200 per month for an eight or 9 hour working day. Wages are lower for part-time work or job types such as answering the phone or typing letters etc. . .

Nowadays the $200 monthly wage, and not the minimum wage, is considered the norm by employers. This is the approximate first figure that is offered to job seekers in morning job advertisements. This figure is about $70 less than the minimum wage which the Ministry of Labor has set as the monthly wage for a worker.

However, given the rise in marketing job during the past few years, the concept of a fixed salary has become meaningless. Most employers who hire job seekers for marketing purposes, speak in terms of commissions from the beginning. Even if the employers offer a fixed salary, most of them consider it a benefit paid alongside the commission.

This is not the end of the story as far as wages offered to the unemployed are concerned. Iran’s crowded capital is not the only place where wages and benefits for workers are ignored. The situation is even worse in other cities in our country. In those cities, wages amount to $150 to $200 per month. Most employers who do not want to offer legal wages or health insurance to their employees, pay a $150 fixed monthly wage and a commission on the side.

For a long time, the subject of the minimum wage for workers has been brought up twice a year. However, sub-minimum wages which violate the labor laws continue. Given the opposition to the enforcement of the minimum wage, this subject has been forgotten for the past month.

Nevertheless, in the underground economy of this city and other cities in this country. . . the large unemployed labor force has created the condition for employers to offer wages and benefits that openly rob the workers. In light of this worrisome unemployment, there are no inspections to enforce working hours, wages and insurance benefits. The unemployed are the victims. They work 12 hours a day, that is 4 hours above the legal working day, in order to receive wages below the minimum wage. . .

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