International Trade Union Mission Returns from Iraq 27/2/2004

ICFTU Press Statement
A first international trade union mission*, has returned from a 10-day fact finding mission in Iraq. The main purposes of the mission were to gain a clearer understanding of trade union developments inside Iraq, and to raise key concerns about the reconstruction process with officials of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and Iraq?s Governing Council.

The mission met with workers and trade union officials in Baghdad, Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan) and Basra in the south. Meetings were also held with the Minister for Labour and Social Affairs Sheik Samy Azarh Al-maajoun, CPA officials, UK special envoy Sir Jeremy Greenstock, and employers from the Iraqi Federation of Industries. They visited workers in the education, food manufacturing, hotel, petroleum, road transport, port and railway sectors.
Everywhere, they found an appetite and a need for trade unionism. Workers are organising unions in workplaces where they were forbidden under Saddam Hussein’s laws, and revitalising union structures previously dominated by the Ba’ath party. The mission met with new trade unionists, and trade unionists returned from exile or re-emerging from prison or the underground. In Iraqi Kurdistan, the established role for unions as an integral part of civil society was seen as an important basis which could be developed elsewhere in the country. The need for women to be enabled to play a more active role in the Iraqi trade union movement was stressed.
However, trade unionism in Iraq faces many challenges.
The economy has been devastated by sanctions and the war, with a lack of infrastructure and raw materials resulting in most of the workforce being unemployed. The burden on Iraqi women is especially heavy. Trade union activity is resulting in better wages in some sectors, however conditions for the vast majority of Iraqi people remain harsh.
The labour laws inherited from the previous regime, which among other things banned trade unionism in the public sector (most of Iraq’s economy at the time), present many obstacles for trade unions. The mission stressed the need for the administration to involve workers through their trade unions, in the development of new labour laws. Tripartite involvement in drafting these laws should help lay strong foundations for social dialogue in the future. A primary role for the UN?s International Labour Organisation in drafting the legislation, and in other relevant aspects of reconstruction, is particularly important. This will help ensure that the legal framework, and the application of these laws, conforms to international standards, and in particular the core Conventions of the ILO.
The mission also welcomed news that the current draft Transitional Administrative Law includes freedom of association, free speech and the right to strike.
The international trade union movement will continue to work to assist Iraqi workers and their unions at the sectoral, regional and national levels. A strong a vibrant trade union movement will be a key foundation for the development of democracy in the country, and in ensuring social justice and equitable and sustainable economic development.
*The mission included representatives from the:
ICFTU (Ms P Kamalam)
UGTT Tunisia/International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions (Mohamed Trabelsi)
Education International (Nicolas Richards and David Dorn)
International Transport Workers? Federation (Bilal Malkawi)
TUC-Great Britain (Owen Tudor)
AFL-CIO/ACILS USA (Harry Kamberis)
The ICFTU represents over 150 million workers in 233 affiliated organisations in 152 countries and territories. ICFTU is also a member of Global Unions:
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