A new partnership boosts workers’ voices and labour rights in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

The ILO has embarked on the new partnership with the Kurdistan United Workers Unions to improve working conditions and address the needs of workers at Employment Intensive Investment Programme sites in Dohuk.

Article | 28 April 2022
Dohuk, Kurdistan Region of Iraq (ILO News) Saleh Ibrahim Ahmad was recently elected to represent his fellow workers at an afforestation project at the University of Dohuk, where they are planting olive trees on more than 35,000 square meters of land which has been bare for many years.

In his 24 years of employment in various jobs, he has never taken on such a role before. But the agricultural worker says he is fully aware of what is needed to ensure that workers are supported and their voices are heard.

“This is a new experience for me and I like it,” said Saleh. “I help workers understand their rights and I help raise their awareness on issues such as those related to safety. I also listen to their challenges and try to help them solve any problems they may have at work, for example if there is a dispute between two workers.”

The site where Saleh works employs around thirty workers under one of the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s employment-intensive investment programmes (EIIP). It is one of three sites where the ILO, under the PROSPECTS partnership which is supported by the Government of the Netherlands, is implementing EIIP projects. The other two sites focus on improving water irrigation systems on farms and promoting sustainable waste management at the Kwashe Sorting Plant, also in Dohuk.

EIIP supports local infrastructure development by using local labour and resources to create much needed employment and income. A key component of EIIP is to build the capacity of local institutions and partners to promote Decent Work principles.

There are now worker representatives at all three sites - a new practice recently introduced under the programme in collaboration with the Kurdistan United Workers Unions to improve working conditions and address the needs of workers. The ILO has embarked on the new partnership with the union and provided training to selected members to enable them to promote decent work among workers.

Ghareeba Ahmad Mohammed, is a member of the Kurdistan United Workers Unions who has years of experience working with the union in Duhok. She recently participated in training sessions with the ILO in Iraq and is now involved in all three sites.

“We have held awareness raising sessions for workers on various issues such as those related to their labour rights, Occupational Safety and Health and a complaint mechanism where they can raise their concerns,” explained Ghareeba.

"We also held a session on the election process and then held the elections. Saleh was one of the workers who was elected. If there are any problems, Saleh calls us. We have a special hotline for the union where any complaints by workers can be raised.”

In addition to the hotline, Ghareeba explains, a committee, established with ILO’s support, comprised of the worker representatives, union members and representatives of the local directorates, meets once a month to discuss any issues and complaints. This includes a range of topics such as the importance of organizing workers’ unions, work complaint and disputes procedures, and Occupational Safety and Health. They also produce regular reports detailing their activities, the working conditions on sites and any follow up that may be needed.

It is hoped that these initial pilot activities will be replicated on other sites, including in Ninewa, Erbil and Basra to strengthen the role of trade unions in Iraq and provide an important model to monitor Decent Work principles in the sector.

“It has been a great experience raising the awareness of workers on their labour rights and finding solutions to their problems,” said Ghareeba. “There are some workers who do not know that there is a specialised entity like the union, which can defend their rights.”

“I hope to be able to offer workers, especially women who are involved in these projects, more support. This experience benefits both the union and the workers.”