Iraq Oil Ministry: No Dealing With Unions

Iraq's Oil Ministry has directed all its agencies and departments not to deal with the country's oil unions.

The unions and Iraq's government, especially the prime minister and oil minister, have been at odds for months now over working conditions and the draft oil law.

The unions went on strike in early June and are threatening to stop production and exports again if demands are not met. The unions claim the oil law, if approved by Parliament, will give foreign oil companies too much access to the oil. The unions enjoy enormous support, especially in the south of Iraq.

"The Minister has directed the prohibition of cooperation with any member of any union in any of the committees organized under the name of the Union as these unions do not enjoy any legal status to work inside the government sector," Laith Abd Al Hussein AL Shahir, the ministry's general director, wrote in a July 18 letter obtained by UPI.

The letter was addressed to the all of the ministry's companies, such as the state firms in the north and south of the country, as well as research, development and training centers based in Baghdad, Baiji, Basra and Kirkuk.

"In no way is it permitted for them to use the offices, instruments or equipment of the companies as they do not enjoy any legal status to work in the public sector," the letter stated, giving recipients two weeks to implement the directive.

Saddam Hussein outlawed worker organizing in the public sector; subsequent U.S. occupying powers and now the Iraqi government do not recognize the workers' rights to organize.

Despite that, workers have come together and leveraged their power. Since 2003 they've blocked numerous attempts to privatize management of both oil and other facilities and stopped work over disputes -- most recently early last month over the oil law and other unmet demands.

The unions are calling for Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani to resign or be fired.

"There are no legal unions in Iraq," Shahristani told UPI last week by phone from Baghdad. "Those people who call themselves representatives of the oil workers have not been elected to the position."

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