Mounting economic pressure on Iranians has been accompanied by an increase in suicides, especially among the workforce.
According to the Iranian daily Etemad, at least 23 workers have committed suicide in the nine months since the start of the Iranian new year on March 21, 2022.
All the deceased were contractual or daily male workers, says the report, noting that out of 23, only two committed suicide for unknown reasons. Of the remaining 21, eleven suicides happened shortly after dismissal from work, ban on entering the workplace, punishment or threats by managers. Five workers took their lives due to poverty and unemployment and four others over "livelihood problems" caused by wage arrears. One worker ended his life after a dispute with the employer, says Etemad.
While the real toll is believed to be higher, figures reveal that the more deprived the region, the higher the number of registered incidents. According to the data, the western province of Ilam had five suicide cases, followed by Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province, Khuzestan and Kermanshah provinces, each with three cases. Next is Fars province, with two. Those areas, in the west, southwest and south of Iran, are among the country’s poorest regions.
Sirous and Karim were both workers of a bakery in Mamasani county, Fars province. The 20-year-old boys were reportedly fired from work before committing suicide together by drug overdose last May. They sent a video message online that explained they were fed up with economic hardships.
“Worker suicides in Iran are mainly rooted in the issues of pay and job security,” says Mohammad Hamzei, the deputy for international affairs of Iran’s Worker House. Speaking to Iranian Labor News Agency ILNA, he said, “The failure to comply with the principles and the proper payment of minimum wage, along with the lack of job stability and security, psychologically harms every human being in the position of a worker.”
The government increased the minimum wage by 57.4 % in the current Iranian year, to roughly 180 USD. Yet the poverty line is approximately 450 USD for a family of four. Although figures may vary in different provinces, the correlation remains almost the same regardless of the region.
Zahra Khanom is a 48-year-old housewife who cares for her ailing husband and does housework in Tehran. For privately employed workers like her, there is little wage increase, if any.
“Some employers are caring enough to give me a bonus, but not all of them,” she told Al-Monitor. “Even if all of them pay me handsomely, still I am lagging far behind expenditures. I sometimes think about suicide, but try to forget it because of my husband.”
Existing mechanisms fall short of addressing the challenges workers face. Besides, the procedures are often overlooked or interpreted to the employer’s advantage.
The Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare is failing in its basic responsibility to "provide dismissed workers with unemployment insurance to prevent suicide,” according to Iranian professor of social sciences Amanollah Gharaee Moghaddam. The University of Tehran lecturer told Arman Melli newspaper that workers’ suicides are largely driven by economic distress rather than personal issues.
Iran's record high annual inflation rate hit 48% in December 2022. The daily devaluation of the national currency, the rial, is further aggravating the economic crisis, that is in turn one of the reasons behind the ongoing protests in Iran.