Saturday, October 31, 2009

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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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Poverty Line in Iran. A "Hoax?"

Translator’s note: At a recent press conference in Tehran, fraudulently elected president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed that customary approaches used by economists to determine the poverty line are a “hoax” and cannot be used as a measure to prove that there is poverty in Iran. Existing facts, however, contradict Ahmadinejad’s statement.

According to a World Bank study done in 2005 and published in 2008, over 8% of Iran’s population of 72 million live under the severe poverty line of $2 per day or $240 per month for a family of four.(1) Based on a study done by the Central Bank of Iran in 2006, the general poverty line is currently no less than $400 per month for a family of four. (2) Another study done by the Iranian economist Hussein Raghfar, and endorsed by the Iranian newspaper, Capital, states that the poverty line in Tehran is around $800 per month for a family of four. This study also claims that given the large number of Iranian city dwellers, around 30% of the population fall below the poverty line. Raghfar’s study emphasizes that an increasing percentage of the following groups have fallen below the poverty line: 1. Laid off and unemployed workers. 2. Farmers who cannot compete with the cheaper prices of imported agricultural goods. 3. Civil servants whose salaries cannot pay for living expenses, given the current 26% inflation rate(3) While a minority of Iranian economists claim that poverty has declined during the past ten years, most Iranian economists think otherwise. (4) The following report from the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) responds to Ahmadinejad’s latest claim that there is no poverty in Iran. ILNA was launched in February 2003. It belongs to the Workers House, a labor union set up by the Iranian government. However, it is considered close to the Iranian reform movement. ILNA was banned in the Summer of 2007 and was reinstated a year later after much pressure from workers’ organizations, students and journalists.(5)

1. Poverty Data: A Supplement to World Development Indicators 2008, p. 19.



The following summary of a report by Iran’s Chamber of Commerce states that only 30% of Iran’s production units are actually engaged in production.

Also see the following article for a recent analysis of the Iranian economy by an economist inside Iran.

4. Djavad Salehi-Isfahani is an Iranian economist and a Dubai Initiaitve research fellow at Harvard University, who believes that the current protests in Iran are not proof of mass dissatisfaction with rising poverty and economic stagnation. He believes that “poverty has declined steadily in the last ten years.” However, he does admit that “in the last ten years, a huge inflow of oil revenues has taken place without any improvement in income inequality.” See

Two other Iranian economists, Sohrab Behdad and Farhad Nomani, have also carefully examined economic life and labor in Iran since the 1979 revolution, and have presented a more critical analysis in their recent book, Class and Labor in Iran: Did the Revolution Matter? (Syracuse University Press, 2006)

ILNA Examines the Government's View:
The Poverty Line Hoax
By Tara Bonyad
Translated by Frieda Afary

You need not travel too far from the city to see the poverty hoax. In order to discover the poverty line hoax, you simply need to turn your head to see the child peddlers and the homeless people who spend their days and nights under freeway bridges.

You need not travel too far from the city to see this poverty hoax. You simply need to open your eyes a little and turn your head. In order to discover the poverty line hoax, you simply need to see the children who hang by your clothes to sell you something, the old women and men who stick out their hands to beg, the women and men who make a living through peddling, or the homeless people.

We enter a street. Children are playing. As soon as they see the camera, one screams out: “Reporters are here. Run away. Tomorrow our pictures will be in the newspapers. Run away.” Each runs in a different direction and disappears in the narrow streets.

Ashkan has a sister and a brother. He lives with his parents, sister and brother in a two-story dilapidated place. His father is a cobbler on the street. His mother cleans homes. His mother says: “But we can’t make ends meet.” Ashkan is a citizen of Tehran. His parents are Afghans. . . .

The Iranian Labor News Agency reports that according to experts, the poverty line in Iran is $850 [per month for a family of four –tr]. If Ashkan’s parents earned half this amount, they could have fixed their home. The first floor is uninhabitable. The entire family lives on the second floor.

In the first press conference of the tenth government [on September 7, 2009 –tr.], Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the poverty line a hoax. He said that first you have to pay attention to the definition of the poverty line. It changes depending on whether the definition considers minimum needs or less important needs.

Ashkan has a home, a dilapidated one. Are his minimum needs satisfied? Does he live above the poverty line?

The further we walk on the streets, the narrower the streets get. A door is open. Dirty soap suds are seeping out from the bottom. I knock on the door. A beautiful young woman opens the door and calls on someone who turns out to be her sister-in-law. They emigrated from Kurdistan years ago. Her husband went bankrupt four years ago. She says he was a garment worker and a foreman at a production unit. A few years ago, after the introduction of Chinese goods, the business slowed down. It cost this workshop $22 to make a raincoat. But retail stores could buy that item for $14 or $15 [from importers—tr.]. Clearly it is more economical to buy the Chinese goods . . .

According to the Iranian Labor News Agency, between the years 1992 and 2007, family incomes in Iran have increased by 71%. At the same time, family expenses have increased by 1840% . . . In his aforementioned press conference, the president claimed that the addition of 200,000 people to the rolls of the unemployed in one year is not very large, but in fact normal. He claimed that the labor market continuously involves job loss for some and job gains for others. This means that those who are laid off today, may regain employment after a while. Therefore, the labor market is constantly engaged in the exchange of human labor power.

This woman’s husband has not “regained employment” after four years. However, based on the above [Ahmadinejad’s statement about the poverty line—tr] her family does not live below the poverty line. They have food and clothing and a dwelling, in the worst possible way. . .

According to the president, having barely enough food to survive, enough clothing to cover yourself, and a roof to protect you from the rain, constitutes the satisfaction of minimal needs. Thank God we all have that. Therefore, no one lives under the poverty line in Iran.

September 22, 2009

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