Unions lobby Iraq over labour rights

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The Independent Online

Leading trade unionists are taking a delegation out to Iraq over fears that the rights of workers, particularly those in the country's lucrative oil trade, are being neglected.

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, which was opposed to war in Iraq without the backing of the United Nations, is understood to be planning to visit the country in November. It is also thought the ICFTU will take representatives from trade union organisations in other Arabic countries, possibly Turkey and Jordan.

ICFTU general secretary Guy Ryder said: "There is serious cause for concern about the way things are going at the moment. Our information is that labour and human rights questions are not receiving the kind of balanced attention they should be."

The organisation, which has a membership of around 158 million, is focusing on three main areas - oil, ports and public services - although the oil industry is its priority. Iraq, a member of the Opec cartel, is thought to have some of the world's largest reserves of crude, and the coalition forces are attempting to kick-start the industry.

When in the country, the ICFTU wants to visit the oil fields and talk to the workers, coalition forces and the Iraqi authorities. In addition, it hopes to play a part in advising the authorities on enshrining internationallabour practices into law. It also wants to make sure workers are able to have a say in the way Iraq's natural resources and assets are privatised. A number of Western oil giants are keen to take part in the restructuring of Iraq.

Iraq did have a trade union under the Saddam Hussein regime, the General Federation of Trade Unions, but was state controlled so is not considered a suitable organisation by the ICFTU. Workers in the public services sector, however, were not permitted any representation.

The ICFTU was set up in 1949 and has 231 affiliated organisations in 150 countries.