With respect, due to the current health issues, this letter is published in an open format.
The upwards trend of the coronavirus continues in our country and, almost fifty days since the outbreak of this disease, we are witnessing that this pandemic has still not yet been controlled and there is no hope of a downwards trend on the horizon.
Unfortunately, we lost a good opportunity during the Nowruz [Iranian New Year] holidays to control and effectively deal with this disease by keeping people indoors and forcing a lockdown throughout the whole country. Any mishandling of this issue will not only cost our country dearly, both in terms of human life and the economy, but will also waste time and cause the further spread of the disease leading to a catastrophe similar to that which has taken place in Italy and Spain.
Effective policies of self-isolating and staying at home require equipment, facilities and measures which the government has a duty to provide. The coronavirus-related job-loss benefit, announced by the Ministry of Labour, does not cover drivers and construction workers. Furthermore, it does not cover peddlers and many unemployed and other marginalised people in our society. One cannot promote self-isolation without thinking of those in need and by leaving people alone to their fate. There are many families who do not have stable monthly jobs or income.
In order to definitively eradicate this disease, it is necessary to boldly tackle the problem both scientifically and pragmatically. The steelworkers cannot be sent to work without providing them with gloves and disinfectants. At present, project workers have not even received their wage arrears of several months, bonuses and benefits. Who should take care of these issues?! Even in Tehran, bus drivers have not been issued with masks and gloves since the outbreak of coronavirus.
The prices of latex gloves, masks and disinfectant alcohol have risen by 200%, 900% and 67% respectively since the coronavirus outbreak began. These are the official high street prices and do not account for prices on the black market!
The working-class, the deprived and the vulnerable low-income groups cannot put these items into their shopping baskets as, thanks to yours and previous government administrations, we have been becoming poorer every day while our purchasing power continually decreases. At the beginning of 2018, according to the Ministry of Labour, a basic monthly wage was $232 – this fell to $130 last year. Therefore, how do you expect people to stay at home, to wash their hands regularly and be able to observe other basic tenets to control the spread of the disease?
Coronavirus is killing not only the street peddlers, rough-sleepers and prostitutes, but is also infecting the elderly care homes and prisons, raising concerns even further.
In countries around the world, from China to the United Kingdom, governments have come to the aid of workers, employees and the poor. In the UK, Boris Johnson’s government has pledged to pay up to 80% of all workers’ and employees’ salaries to force them to stay at home and to stop small businesses from folding during the crisis.
We urge your government to implement full quarantine of all cities for 30 days, before it is too late, so that this calamity may be diverted away from our distressed people sooner and at less of a human cost. We are, therefore, requesting the following:
1- All deprived persons and workers who do not have a source of income must be covered by an unemployment benefit scheme for the next 3 months without any conditions.
2- All overdue salaries and pay arrears to date must be paid forthwith throughout the country.
3- Free access to sanitary ware – including masks, gloves, alcohol and disinfectants.
4- All public roadways and passageways must be thoroughly disinfected by trained operatives.
5- The homeless must be housed in public bath-houses and mosques to prevent the spread of the disease.
6- Production centres and institution premises must be carefully and comprehensively inspected by the Department of Health.
7- All prisoners must be released. They can be subsequently monitored through the use of electronic bracelets and tags.
8- More nurses and medical staff must be employed to relieve the burden on the existing medical staff and so that the lives of these national heroes are not further endangered due to their working around the clock. Medical centres are still in need of 10,000 more medical staff. Retired medical staff must be facilitated to return to work during the crisis, should they wish to do so.
9- All salaries of the medical staff and employees working hard in sanitary ware factories must be paid on time with appropriate bonuses and rewards in recognition of the sacrifices they have made.
- Action must be taken to fight black market operators and profiteers relentlessly and try them before public courts. Also, all prices must be frozen with a rigorous system overseen through the employing of honest and serious government inspectors.
- The unprecedented increase in plastic and nylon wastes pose environmental risks in the future. Serious measures must be taken immediately by municipal managers so as to avoid a calamity related to this current usage in the future.
We are aware that capitalism benefits from the current pandemic as it does away with costly demographic entities: the elderly, the homeless, the poor, and prisoners. Let us not permit profiteering and monetary interests to come before and endanger the lives of the Iranian people.
We praise our heroic sons and daughters. This heroism will be remembered in history.
Union of Metal Workers and Mechanics of Iran
8 April 2020