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Cablegate: Goi Begins Widening Labor Rights in Anticipation of New

VZCZCXRO6484
RR RUEHBC RUEHDA RUEHDE RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHGB #4060 3650332
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 300332Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1055
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 0281

UNCLAS BAGHDAD 004060

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB ETRD EFIN EINV IZ
SUBJECT: GOI BEGINS WIDENING LABOR RIGHTS IN ANTICIPATION OF NEW
LABOR CODE

REF: Thome-Phillips e-mail, 12-24-2008

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. PLEASE PROTECT ACCORDINGLY.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The GOI is determined to bring its labor code into
compliance with international standards, but is still struggling to
move a new ILO-compatible draft bill through the legislative
process. The constitutional review is nearly complete, and the
Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) is hopeful Cabinet will
approve the draft and send it to the Council of Representatives
(COR) for enactment in 2009. The new draft allows for the formation
of unions in both the public and private sector, as well as
collective bargaining and expanded rights of association. Perhaps
most importantly, MOLSA is already beginning to implement several
aspects of the new law that expand labor rights, in anticipation of
its passage. There is widespread understanding in both the GOI and
the COR that Saddam's 1987 labor laws -- which the new code will
supersede -- are unconstitutional and need to be repealed. END
SUMMARY.

Iraq's Slow Legislative Process
-------------------------------
2. (SBU) Econoffs met with Deputy Minister of Labor Nouri M.
Al-Hilfi December 23 to discuss the GOI's new draft labor code and
the progress his Ministry has made toward seeing it enacted. MOLSA
began drafting the new code in 2005, with technical assistance from
the ILO, Al-Hilfi recalled. The bill went to the Shura Council (the
rough equivalent of a European Constitutional Court) in 2007, and
the Shura has certified the constitutionality of most sections.
Certain sections were referred back to MOLSA for revision, Al-Hilfi
reported; those revisions were made this year and the bill was
re-submitted to the Shura. Al-Hilfi had told us in July that he
hoped the bill would move through the Shura to the Council of
Ministers (COM) for approval and referral to the COR before the end
of 2008, and he acknowledged now that he has become somewhat
frustrated with the bill's slow progress.

3. (SBU) That frustration notwithstanding, Al-Hilfi expressed
satisfaction with the fact that the new code, once enacted, will
modernize Iraq's labor regulations and occupational safety standards
and bring them up to international standards. The new code, which
benefited greatly from ILO's input, will permit workers to form
unions in the public sector and will enhance their ability to do so
in the private sector. It will permit collective bargaining; remove
the oppressive restrictions that Saddam's regime had placed on all
workers' rights of association; and reinstate the right to strike.

Moving Forward in Anticipation of the New Labor Code
--------------------------------------------- -------
4. (SBU) These changes will be dramatic, and MOLSA is already
enacting new policies to expand labor rights in anticipation of the
new code's passage. In addition to providing training to MOLSA
workers in the new code's provisions, Al-Hilfi highlighted the
following:

-- Existing law restricts right of association by allowing workers'
committees only in private sector worksites with more than 50
employees. MOLSA has now begun recognizing committees in workplaces
with fewer than 50.

-- Until 2008, MOLSA recognized and only dealt with the General
Federation of Iraqi Workers, as current law stipulates, in the
private sector. However, MOLSA has now "registered" and begun a
dialogue with eleven new independent unions; "recognition" will come
after the new code passes.

-- In the public sector, MOLSA has permitted workers in several
state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and in some sectors of the Ministry
Qstate-owned enterprises (SOEs) and in some sectors of the Ministry
of Oil to form workers' committees, a practice that is expanding.


-- Strikes are still not permitted under Iraqi law, but Al-Hilfi
acknowledged that "events similar to strikes" occurred in 2008 and
that MOLSA now takes a more forthcoming attitude when unions,
workers' committees or other groups request it to arbitrate between
employees and employers. (The new labor code will give MOLSA the
legal footing to do so.)

Undoing Saddam's Legacy
-----------------------
5. (SBU) Al-Hilfi readily acknowledged that Iraq's current labor
situation is rife with contradictions. The existing legislative
framework is draconian, he said, set in place in 1987 by Saddam
Hussein with the specific purpose of suppressing labor rights. The
GOI is committed to passing legislation that supersedes the
Saddam-era law, and Al-Hilfi expressed confidence that the COR
recognizes that need and will act quickly once it receives the bill.
"For us, the old laws are finished," he added.
CROCKER

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