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500 workers demonstrate outside parliament over new law

TEHRAN, Iran, February 28, 2000 (AFP) - Some 500 Iranian workers rallied outside the parliament Monday to protest at a new law passed at the weekend enabling employers with fewer than five staff to strip them of social security. Reformists meanwhile slammed the legislation as a gesture of spite by the outgoing conservative-dominated parliament following the landslide victory of the reformists in this month's election.

The demonstration, which later broke up without incident, was called by groups close to reformist President Mohammad Khatami, particularly the Labour Centre, the equivalent of a state-run trade union.

A statement from the Labour Centre said the law, which still has to be approved by the watchdog Council of Guardians as conforming to the constitution, was a serious blow to job security.

The measure allows bosses of small firms to escape paying social security charges for their workers or to sack employees summarily.

"It's an act of revenge by the conservative majority against the reformists," Soheila Jolodarzedeh, a reformist MP who won re-election in Tehran, told AFP.

She said the legislation was in violation of the constitution, which guarantees work and social security for every Iranian, adding that the Council of Guardians, another conservative-dominated body, would certainly reject it.

"Here we are in the 21st century and our MPs are passing laws which encourage exploitation", Jolodarzadeh said, while calling on workers to show restraint.

The incoming reformist-dominated assembly due to take over in May has sufficient economic projects to create jobs, she said.

The controversial measure was submitted to parliament six months ago but debate was postponed because of fierce opposition from the reformist minority.

It goes against the labour regulations passed when parliament had a radical majority, which favours workers' rights over those of employers.

"No one would have believed that just a few days after the elections the conservative majority commit such a spectacularly provocative act," protested the central council of the Islamic labour associations, which is close to the reformist government.