How much can you earn working for the Iranian state?
That question is trending online in Iran, after the payslips of several employees were leaked online and published by several media outlets.
They showed not just inflated salaries, but what appear to be bonuses, interest-free loans and significant overtime payments. In one instance, a bank manager at a state bank was shown to have received £50,000 in one month.
By contrast, other public servants – including those who identified themselves as teachers, nurses and journalists – have published monthly payslips showing some of them are paid much more modest salaries of £300 a month or less.
Media outlets backing conservative political factions have used the issue to criticise the moderate-leaning government of President Rouhani.
But the government has said the practice of paying these salaries and bonuses goes back to the previous administration of former hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But what started as a conservative issue has now become a much broader protest on the Iranian internet, with the public blaming both conservatives and reformists for it. Conversations are taking place on the popular mobile chat app Telegram which, unlike Facebook and Twitter, is not blocked in the country.
One popular satirical channel, Mamlekate, asked users to also post audio clips of their reactions. In one of the clips, a young man says it’s a good thing the pay packets have been leaked: “In my opinion we must appreciate this government more and more… since it has paved the way for exposing such scandals. The same things and the same thefts went on in the previous administrations and people were becoming poorer day by day, but no one talked about it.”
Another user, however, declared he was “fed up” and said he hoped he could “hold this government to account”. The channel did not identify the users who had sent in the clips.
Some Iranian Twitter users also debated the issue tongue-in-cheek.
One tweeted an infographic featuring the monthly income of several world leaders with the following quip: “Obama has sent over his resume and is seeking employment with a bank in Iran, once his presidency ends.”
One newspaper also started a #PayslipChallenge campaign, calling on all public officials to publish their salaries. Some have responded. The head of the national library and former minister, Reza Salehi Amiri, showed he earned £1,200 a month.
A former deputy interior minister and leading Reformist, Mostafa Tajzadeh, revealed he receives £620 a month on a state pension.
Several other hashtags, including #My_Pay_Slip and #payslips, are also trending. The former was launched by journalists working for reformist newspaper Sharq Daily. It called on all Iranian journalists to show their payslips.
“This is my payslip in Sharq newspaper. I call on my colleagues in other sectors of the media to join the #My_Pay_Slip campaign,” wrote Mohammad Hasan Najmi – who earns £240 a month.
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called on the government to “decisively” tackle the issue. President Rouhani has said he will take “firm action” against the payment of large bonuses.