Non-Persian ethnic groups endure the highest rates of unemployment in Iran, according to recently released government statistics.
Of the top 20 cities for unemployment, seven were in Arab majority areas, seven in Balochi areas, four in Kurdistan and just two in Persian-majority areas. While Balochistan has long suffered under-development, the Ahwazi Arab region contains much of the country’s oil, petrochemicals, metallurgical and agricultural industries. In Kurdistan, Al-Ahwaz and Balochistan, the unemployment rates are the same, at 30-47%, demonstrating that indigenous populations are being subjected to institutional discrimination.
Actual unemployment rates are likely to be far higher. Official statistics are based on the welfare claimant rate, which is likely to be well below the level indicated by standards used by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Unemployment is recognized as an acute problem among Arabs due to the refusal to employ local people in industry. The lack of employment opportunities caused by discrimination have fuelled unrest among Arab youths, prompting some members of parliament in the region to speak out against unfair labour practices.
Those in employment struggle with consistent non-payment of salaries and repression of trade unions, which prevents them from organizing collectively. In 2012, workers from the Ahwaz Sugar Refinery staged protests over months of unpaid wages in a dispute that began in 2010. Many of the employees have been working for the company for over 20 years and on top of poverty have found they have no healthcare cover.
Sayed Sharif Hosseini, Ahwaz member of parliament, has also criticised discrimination in favour of non-native people from other provinces in Khuzestan’s (Al-Ahwaz) organisations and offices, adding: “Unfortunately, the local recruits quota has been reduced in some organisations. This is not in the province’s interests. The most important goal should be to reduce the rate of unemployment and we demand action from the government.” Meanwhile, Majlis member for Shushtar (Tostar) Sadar Ebrahimi claimed that the province’s developmental problems are due to the lack of effective, capable and indigenous management.
Although Abadan, home to one of the world’s largest oil refineries, has a high employment capacity, oil company managers are refusing to fulfil a 50% quota for local people, according to Abadan’s member of parliament Seyed Hussein Dahdashi in September 2012. He accused provincial authorities of not providing Majlis members precise information on the proportion of nonindigenous and indigenous employees in different economic sectors.
Another member of parliament Mohammad Saeed Ansari also hit out against discrimination against ‘native’ (Arab) workers in November 2012.21 A member of the Energy Commission, Ansari said that in Asaluyeh, only half of those in employment are natives while in Abadan less than five per cent of workers are from the region. Meanwhile, poverty and unemployment among Arabs in these cities remains high. Ansari also accused the authorities of harassing native people involved in fishing and other traditional livelihoods and being denied provision for self-employment. Ansari denounced the provincial governor for poor management, which he claimed was making the situation for native people worse.
Ansari was supported in his claims by Nafeaa Alboghobiesh, the vice chairman of Showra council, who claimed that the youth of Mahshaher (Mashour) city were suffering high unemployment despite the presence of many petrochemicals companies. He claimed that even those local youths with a good education were being denied jobs in favour of migrant workers from other parts of Iran.