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2,000 Iranian workers in fresh protest over controversial labour law

TEHRAN, Iran, March 8, 2000(AFP) - Some 2,000 disgruntled Iranian workers rallied outside parliament Wednesday in renewed protests against recent legislation enabling employers with fewer than five staff to strip them of social security.

The demonstrators, gathered under the flag of workers' groups close to reformist President Mohammad Khatami, accused parliament of having "humiliated the workforce with its anti-worker law."

Several of the protestors, some of whom had travelled to Tehran from the provinces, also blasted Chamber of Commerce President Ali Naqi-Khamushi -- an influential conservative figure -- of being in the service of "the bosses and the capitalists."

The demonstrators also threatened to trigger a "national strike movement" on May 1st.

The early morning demonstration, the largest to date over the new law passed late February, forced police to close off Iman Khomeini avenue which runs outside parliament as protestors demanded a meeting with parliamentary representatives.

The Labour Centre -- the equivalent of a state-run trade union -- has dubbed the law as a serious blow to job security, with bosses of small firms able to escape paying social security charges for their workers or to sack employees summarily.

In an address to protestors, reformist deputy Soheila Jolodarzadeh, called on parliament to annul the law.

Several reformist deputies have also slammed the legislation as a gesture of spite by the outgoing conservative-led parliament following the landslide victory of the reformers in last month's election.

The labour law still has to be approved by the watchdog Council of Guardians as conforming to the constitution.

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 favour workers' rights over those of employers.