March 18, 2018

Workers at 92 cultural heritage sites in Iran have not been paid their wages since October 2017, according to the Etemad online newspaper. The report said that 40 of these historic sites are on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Each of these sites employs around 30 workers who, the paper said, have not been paid in six months.

Tour guides and security guards at Chogha Zanbil World Heritage site (an ancient Elamite complex dating to 1250-640 BC and located in the southwestern province of Khuzestan) staged a protest recently demanding their unpaid wages.

Contract workers on low wages run most of the tourist sites during the Nowrouz holidays. The government’s Planning and Budget Office guarantees the salaries of these workers. However, due to budgetary constraints, the government has not extended the necessary financing to the Cultural Heritage, Handicraft, and Tourism Organization (ICHTO), which pays the salaries of the workers.

“The government has finally provided the much-needed credit. We will be able to pay these workers by March 26,” Mohammad Hassan Talebian, deputy director of the ICHTO, recently said. “Government stops financing development projects anytime it experiences a budget shortfall. It was unable to provide the ICHTO the money it needed to pay the salaries of its workers. We’ve asked the Planning and Budget Office to include our funding in the government’s running costs. Unfortunately, this may not happen anytime soon.”

Talebian said: “We had another problem this year, namely that the government gave us treasury bonds instead of cash. We couldn’t pay the salaries with that. So we asked them to authorize us to redeem the bonds.”

Farhad Azizi, the director of Iran’s World Heritage Sites, highlighted the same issue. He noted: “We could only pay 15 percent of the workers’ salaries in cash. The Planning and Budget Office gave the rest to the ICHTO in treasury bonds and long-term certificate of deposits. Workers expect money, not government issued bonds.”

“The problem is that the government doesn’t release the funds in time. We have not received any money that was allocated to our site in 2017. The failure to finance projects or pay salaries in a timely fashion will hurt the ICHTO,” Atefeh Rushavi, the director of Chogha Zanbil-Haft Tapeh World Heritage, noted.

Responding to rumors about a new round of strikes by the workers at Chogha Zanbil Heritage site, Rushavi, said: “I haven’t heard anything about that. I hope it’s not true. We’ve been working very hard for the past ten months to promote these sites. Any negative publicity would ruin all our efforts. But workers are right. They have to work during the holidays, keeping the sites open and welcoming tourists. Meanwhile, they haven’t been paid for months. They can’t enjoy Nowrouz with their families. It is stressful.”

Mojtaba Farahmand, the director of Yazd World Heritage, also said that 20 independent contractors at the site had not been paid for months.

“Workers at the Pasargad and Takht-e Jamshid World Heritage have not been paid in six months, even though the sites are funded from a dedicated budget,” said Hamid Fadaei, the director of the two sites.

The ICHTO’s financial problems started when Hamid Baqaei was in charge of the organization in 2011. Subsequent directors have not resolved the issues. 

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