Soaring temperatures in southern Iran have made conditions intolerable for oil and gas sector employees, who have been forced to work in temperatures between 45 and 53°C, sources say.
The majority of Iran's oil factories and refineries are in the sweltering southern provinces of Khuzestan and Bushehr, where humidity levels sometimes exceed 85% -- and this year has been hotter than ever.
In August, the hottest recorded temperature in Iran's history was measured in Ahvaz, at more than 53°C, as climate change wreaks havoc on the country, which also has experienced severe dust storms and drought.
Yet the Iranian government has provided no reprieve for oil and gas sector workers, who toil in conditions that are hazardous to their health and safety.
During the first two weeks of August, around 500 oil and gas workers were hospitalised for heat exhaustion, according to local media reports.
In the Bushehr city of Asaluyeh, another oil hub, dozens of workers sought medical attention for heat exhaustion during the same period.
On August 13, an oil sector workers' union reported that at least two oil workers had died of heatstroke in the Khuzestan city of Abadan, following hours of hard work in high temperatures.
Difficult conditions, low pay
In past years, contracted oil and gas sector workers have protested against difficult work conditions and low pay, demanding staff positions or permanent contracts.
This year employees have joined the protests against low pay and insufficient benefits.
On August 11, groups of employees from multiple oil service companies and refineries protested unsatisfactory work conditions that have remained unchanged over the past eight years.
They demanded increases in their salaries and pensions, reduction of taxes, improvement in their health insurance plans, and the implementation of necessary repairs to worn-out oil and gas facilities.
The protesters called attention to a section of the Petroleum Act of Iran (Article 123, Section 10), which the Majles (Iranian parliament) approved in 2014.
This legislation, which has never been implemented, focuses on raising base salaries for oil and gas sector workers.
Although oil and gas sector refineries and offices have continued their operations, dozens of staff members have expressed their discontent with the government's inaction and its failure to implement Section 10.
In response to the workers' demands, the administration of President Ebrahim Raisi has stated that Section 10 "permits" the government to implement its provisions, and does not "mandate" the government to do so.
'End political appointments'
Employees of other sectors also are facing economic hardship as the Iranian economy falters -- a state of affairs many blame on the regime for its pursuit of a regional, expansionist agenda, at the expense of the Iranian people.
For months, teachers have gathered across the country to demand better working conditions, benefits, the payment of salaries for teachers on contract (non-government employees) and higher salaries to meet inflation.
But instead of listening to the demands of protesting workers and attempting to improve their conditions, the Iranian regime has adopted a hard line against them, sending its security apparatus to crack down on protests.
Teachers, factory workers and environmentalists calling for positive change in Iran have been intimidated, arrested and beaten by anti-riot police forces and plainclothes and uniformed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) elements.
In the oil sector, some employees say they have not received their salaries on time and are facing a hike in income tax. A group of them protested in front of Abadan's Oil Products Refinery on August 13.
A number of Oil Ministry staff members have demanded that the government improve work conditions and health benefits for workers and their families.
They have called on the Raisi administration to be more attentive to their living conditions, to identify and prosecute plunderers in the oil and gas sector, and to remove bonus ceilings from retirees' pensions.
They also have called for the repair of dilapidated facilities and demanded an end to political appointments in the oil industry.
Under Raisi, political appointments have become the new normal in Iranian ministries. Regardless of expertise, former officials or members of the IRGC are increasingly taking over senior positions.
Most contracting and sub-contracting oil service companies are affiliated with the IRGC, whose connections to the Oil Ministry ensure lucrative contracts that come out of the public purse -- funded by Iranian taxpayers.
Most Oil Ministry contracts with the private sector are likewise handed to IRGC-owned or -affiliated companies, which reap benefits, launder money and evade sanctions, even as the public withers under major economic pressure.
An Iran-based petrochemical engineer and chief financial officer of a private oil company, who asked to remain anonymous, said his company has been steadily losing bids to IRGC-affiliated companies in Ahvaz and Asaluyeh over the past three years.
"Unless you are a former or current IRGC member, or have close ties to the IRGC, you will likely not win oil contracts in this country," he said.
An international oil smuggling and money laundering network led by IRGC Quds Force (IRGC-QF) officials was slapped with US sanctions in May.
The network, supported by the Russian government and state-run economic organisations, has facilitated the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of Iranian oil to profit the IRGC-QF and Lebanese Hizbullah, the US Treasury said.
It "has acted as a critical element of Iran's oil revenue generation, as well as its support for proxy militant groups that continue to perpetuate conflict and suffering throughout the region", according to the US Treasury.