March 29, 2023

Iran and Bahrain announce plans, workers’ wage crisis in the new year, new inflation statistics break records, and more

Week of March 27th, 2023 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Iran and Bahrain announce plans to improve bilateral relations

In an effort to strengthen bilateral relations, Bahrain and Iran have announced plans to improve ties between the two nations. Bahraini Parliament Speaker Ahmed bin Salman Al Musallam expressed this intention during a meeting with an Iranian parliamentary delegation at the 146th International Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) gathering in Manama, Bahrain. Mojtaba Rezakhah, the head of the Iranian delegation, highlighted the cultural, historical, and religious commonalities between the two countries.

This development comes amid Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s potential visit to Saudi Arabia, which is expected to pave the way for further dialogue between Iran and its Arab neighbors in the Gulf. The upcoming negotiations between Iran and Bahrain will likely focus on restoring and enhancing relations, with an emphasis on shared values and history. This suggests a readiness to collaborate on regional issues and promote cooperation in various sectors.

As a tangible sign of this commitment, Bahrain’s first deputy of parliament announced on March 22 that direct flights between Iran and Bahrain, which had been suspended since 2014, will resume soon. According to Sputnik, Abdul Nabi Salman confirmed that the resumption of air travel was discussed in candid conversations with the Iranian parliamentary delegation. The restoration of direct flights is seen as a crucial step in fostering stronger ties between the two countries.

A continuation of the workers’ wage crisis in the new year

The ongoing workers’ wage crisis presents a complex challenge for both the government and the private sector. The 27% minimum wage increase to 8,082,060 tomans for a family of 3.2 people has not satisfied the working class, as it fails to keep pace with the soaring inflation rate of around 47%. This decision by the Supreme Labor Council has been criticized for not adhering to the labor law, which dictates that the minimum wage should be determined by the inflation percentage announced by the central bank.

The Labor House has announced plans to challenge the Supreme Labor Council’s decision, offering hope to the labor community. Hasan Sadeghi, the deputy general secretary of the Labor House, has criticized the decision and argued that it violates the spirit of tripartism (involving labor, employers, and the government). He believes the minimum wage should have been determined based on the central bank’s announced 47% inflation rate, rather than the lower 43.7% rate used by the Supreme Labor Council.

The wage crisis has far-reaching consequences, notably for retirees, who do not benefit from the same salary increases as employed workers. Although insurance premiums are received, they do not impact retiree salaries. Consequently, the retired community is expected to continue voicing their concerns and protesting throughout the year.

To address the workers’ wage crisis, the government and private sector would have to come together to reevaluate minimum wage rates, taking into account the actual inflation rate and ensuring fair compensation for the working class. Additionally, the needs of the retired community should also be addressed to prevent further unrest and dissatisfaction.

Inflation statistics released by the central bank, breaking both the 20-year Norooz record and the 50-year spot inflation record

Inflation in Iran has reached a record-breaking point-to-point rate of 63.9% in March 2023, the highest in 50 years. Central Bank statistics show that the Esfand 1401 (roughly equivalent to March 2023) price index was 794.3, while according to the statistics archive of the Central Bank, the Esfand 1400 (March 2022) price index was reported as 484.6. This demonstrates that the price increase in between these two dates (point-to-point inflation) is about 63.9%, a dramatic and record-breaking increase.

The Central Bank of Iran also reports a 6.6% increase in monthly inflation and a 46.5% annual inflation rate. This 6.6% figure represents the highest monthly inflation rate at the end of the year in the past 20 years.

The increasing inflation rates have raised concerns about the future value of the Iranian rial against the US dollar. With no clear path for the revitalization of the JCPOA and the lifting of related sanctions, as well as the unresolved Financial Action Task Force (FATF) banking transparency issues, prospects for controlling the rising inflation rate remain uncertain.

Members of Parliament propose crushing penalties to enforce mandatory hijab

Hossein Jalali, a member of parliament in Iran, has proposed a plan to increase the penalties for “bad hijabs” in an effort to enforce the mandatory hijab rules. The proposed fines would range from 500,000 tomans to 3,000,000,000 tomans. Additional consequences could include the cancellation of driver’s licenses, passports, and bans on internet usage for celebrities and those with large online followings. Jalali claims that the plan was developed over 300 meetings with the Cultural Revolution Council and the National Security Council, targeting seven groups including those in cars, public places, government organizations, educational institutions, airports, virtual spaces, and streets.

However, Jalali’s comments have been met with criticism, and his opinions may not represent the broader government’s stance. There is no official bill or plan on the matter, and Jalali is known for making unusual statements. He has asked the government to bring a bill to parliament for approval within the next two weeks, but there is no indication that such a bill is forthcoming.

Some religious figures in Iran continue to push for stricter hijab enforcement. Mohsen Araki, a member of the Assembly of Experts, argued that the veil is needed to preserve the independence of Iranian women, stating that non-veiling leads to corruption and societal decay. A video from Eram Garden in Shiraz also shows a man praising women who adhere to government-approved hijab standards and denying entry to those who do not, triggering significant controversy.

In a surprising development, the Prosecutor’s Office of Yazd has denied the claim made by Zeinab Jafari and criticized her for attacking a citizen. Jafari, a veiled woman known for confronting women who oppose the mandatory hijab on a passenger train, recently released a video alleging that she was subjected to violence due to her “reminding of the hijab.” However, the deputy prosecutor of Yazd, Mohammad Naiminejad, has refuted her claim, labeling it as “confiscation for good.” Naiminejad emphasized that while the judiciary supports law enforcement agents according to the law, in this particular instance, “indiscretion is evident” and both “legal and Shari’a” standards were not upheld. 

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