Tuesday, January 31, 2017

IFFCO Oils Co. workers launch boycott of company products to protest sackings, arrests & police raids

Mada Masr
IFFCO workers launch boycott campaign to protest sackings, arrests and sit-in dispersal

January 31, 2017


Workers at the International Foodstuffs Co (IFFCO) in Suez have launched a campaign calling for a boycott of the company’s products after 27 workers were sacked, and a sit-in at the company was forcefully dispersed by police forces on January 2.

The campaign to boycott the company’s products, over 100 of which are produced in Egypt, was announced during a labor conference held at the office of the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS) on Friday. It is a response to the implementation of measures which violate workers’ rights by the local administration.


According to Ahmed Bakr, the secretary general of IFFCO’s local union committee, 27 workers have been barred from entering the company since police forcefully dispersed a sit-in in early January. Among those sacked are all nine members of the local union, including Bakr.

Workers launched the sit-in to demand the augmentation of their wages in line with increasing inflation rates, and the payment of overdue bonuses.

Bakr told Mada Masr that prosecutors referred criminal charges of instigating strike action to trial, “even though the right to strike is protected by law, and is safeguarded in the Egyptian Constitution.”

Twenty one of the 27 workers stood trial at the Suez Criminal Court for their involvement in the industrial action, and were acquitted on Sunday. They described the verdict, which has cleared them of any wrongdoing, as a victory which upholds their rights as workers.

The privately owned United Arab Emirates-based company, which produces oils, foodstuffs and other consumer goods, has 37 production plants worldwide. It is owned by the Allana family, listed among the top five wealthiest Indian families in the Gulf Cooperation Council in 2016.

Regarding the potential for the boycott to negatively affect wages of IFFCO workers, Bakr said that his fellow workers are overwhelmingly in favor of the campaign, until the rights of all employees and unionists are restored.

He told Mada Masr: “The company is implementing punitive measures against our coworkers, many of whom are afraid to speak up for their rights, especially since the administration sacked the entire union committee.”

According to Bakr, 200 striking workers, many of whom were briefly arrested during the sit-in dispersal, were prevented from entering company grounds until they signed an agreement with administrators pledging to refrain from pursuing industrial action again. “They were forced to sign these papers, and if they refused they were threatened with the loss of their jobs.”

Additionally, administrators at IFFCO’s branch in Suez claimed that the workers’ sit-in had cost the company LE4 million in losses, and accordingly deducted LE500 from each of its 600 workers for going on strike.

The workers have been demanding the reinstatement of the local union committee, and the 27 employees who are currently prevented from returning to their jobs at the company, he said.

The company’s administration could not be reached for comment.

In addition to the alleged infringements on labor and union rights, Mohamed Saeed, president of the local union committee, claimed that he was blindfolded, threatened and summoned for questioning by National Security Agency (NSA) officers in Suez regarding the strike.

He said that during the strike, he was “told to return to the company, to call off the strike, or return to the NSA to face subsequent measures against me.” Saeed added that his apartment was repeatedly raided by police forces.

The CTUWS’ legal consultant Rahma Refaat commented that “boycott campaigns in Egypt may be more symbolic and promotional, whereas they tend to be more successful abroad.”

She suggested that IFFCO’s workers “focus on a boycott centering on your most popular product. Fern Butter, for example.”


Bakr asserted that the boycott is not an open-ended action against the Allana family. “If our boycott does succeed in upholding workers’ rights at the company, then we will call it off.”

The union has requested international solidarity from labor unions and federations, and consumer rights groups. He argued that an effective boycott campaign in the UK or USA could have a great impact on IFFCO’s distribution centers there, saying Allana and IFFCO “would be afraid to lose customers and investments, or even afraid to have their name was tarnished.”

Recent years have seen a crackdown on industrial action in Egypt’s public and private sector, and the state has increasingly turned to the deployment of security forces to arrest workers and impose exceptional legal measures to punish those detained.

Parliament extends term of un-elected labor union federation’s board by another year

Mada Masr
Parliament extends un-elected labor union federation’s board for another year

Tuesday 24, January 2017 

Jano Charbel


Egypt’s parliament extended the term of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation’s (ETUF) board on Sunday by another year, despite elections already being more than five years overdue.

The last extension of the board’s term of office for a period of six months was approved by parliament in July 2016, with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi previously extending its term by a year in May 2015.

The ETUF’s senior board members were selected and appointed by the minister of manpower in 2011, and current Minister of Manpower Mohamed Saafan is also a ETUF official.

The Trade Union Federation’s last elections were held in October and November 2006, although they were declared void by an administrative court, as they were conducted without judicial supervision. Despite the court verdicts, the leaders of the ETUF remained in office from 2006 to 2011.

With the outbreak of the 2011 revolution against President Hosni Mubarak, the ETUF’s board was dissolved, and a draft law was prepared under the caretaker minister of manpower to replace the outdated 1976 Trade Union Law, which stated that the only legally recognized labor federation in Egypt was the ETUF.

Parliament’s manpower committee, which is dominated by ETUF members, voted to retain the current leadership for 12 months, unless a new trade union law is issued during this time, which would mean elections could take place.

MP and leading ETUF member Mohamed Wahballah told the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper that a draft trade union law, along with other labor legislation, is currently being discussed in parliament to encourage investment in Egypt.

“The extension of the ETUF’s term from six months to a year reveals that this governmental federation is merely working to keep itself in power for the longest period of time possible, without having to deal with votes or elections,” Talal Shokr, a member of the Independent Union of Pensioners, told Mada Masr, adding, “It is also striving to prepare a trade union law that maintains its privileges, and that sidelines independent unions.”

The ETUF was established in 1957, and acted as the country’s sole labor federation from that time until the advent of the first independent trade union in 2009.

In February 2016, the ETUF filed a lawsuit hoping to outlaw independent trade unions.

If the new legislation is passed, Shokr commented, Egypt will once again be blacklisted by the International Labor Organization. The ILO declared Egypt to be a state that violated international conventions on trade union rights for many years. In April 2016, the ILO called on Egypt to stop repressing independent unions and uphold workers’ rights to freedom of association.

The Egyptian state voluntarily ratified the ILO’s conventions on freedom of association (Convention 87) and the right to organize (Convention 98) in the 1950s, but has since failed to uphold its provisions.

ITUC demands that Egypt ensures full investigation into Giulio Regeni's murder

International Trade Union Confederation
Egypt: Justice for Murdered Researcher Giulio Regeni

The ITUC has called on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to ensure a full investigation into the murder of PhD student Giulio Regeni in Cairo 

January 24, 2017


Twenty-eight-year-old Regeni, a student at Cambridge University researching Egypt’s independent trade union movement, was brutally tortured and murdered on 25 January.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said, “This atrocity, against an innocent young researcher, must be fully investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. The heavy-handed tactics of Egypt’s police, the string of disappearances in recent months and the mounting repression of civil society show that President Sisi’s government is heading in the wrong direction.

The prospects for fundamental democratic rights and freedoms, including the right to freedom of association for the country’s workers, are receding by the day. We call upon the government to change course, to support and protect human rights and avoid yet more bloodshed and the possibility of further mass unrest.”

State responds to recent labor protests with heightened repression & exceptional legal measures

Mada Masr
State responds to recent labor protests with heightened repression and exceptional legal measures

January 24, 2017

Jano Charbel

 
Recent nationwide labor protests have found themselves confronted by extraordinary measures of repression as the country continues to weather economic struggles, austerity measures and rising inflation.

The Egyptian government has deployed security forces to quash any suggestion of labor action in the public or private sector, arresting workers and subsequently imposing exceptional legal measures to punish those detained.

Since 2016, the state has increasingly moved toward suppressing labor protests. According to an annual report published by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), there were 726 labor protests over workplace demands, claims of administrative mismanagement and corruption in 2016. These protests have particularly been driven by grievances over working conditions and demands for increased wages and bonuses in light of recent economic reform policies.

However, the ECESR report also noted that 2016 saw a decline in the total number of labor protests compared to 2015, in which there were 933 labor protests. In 2014, there were 1,609 labor protests, while, in 2013, there were 2,239.

The latest ECESR report states that the 726 labor protests in 2016 made up the majority of the 1,736 protests witnessed throughout the year. This report attributes the decrease in the total number of protests to restrictive legislation regulating the right to demonstrate and security crackdowns on dissent.

The state’s crackdown has prompted solidarity campaigns and petitions — in Egypt and abroad — demanding that the criminal charges against dozens of workers be dropped. Addressed to executive authorities, the petitions have been signed by hundreds of rights workers, labor unions and federations, denouncing the deployment of security forces to suppress protesting workers.


ALEXANDRIA SHIPYARD COMPANY WORKERS

“Undoubtedly, Egypt has been witnessing increased repression against workers protests since 2013,” says ECESR lawyer Mohamed Awwad.

According to a report issued by the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS), security forces have forcibly dispersed seven labor protests over the past year, while 28 workers have been prosecuted and nine others are standing trial. The report adds that corporations have also dismissed 271 workers, union members and labor leaders due to their involvement in labor action.

The state’s initial response to a potential problem in the cog of military production — the Alexandria Shipyard Company has been managed by the Defense Ministry since 2007 — was particularly extreme, Awwad says, as the workers had not forced a work stoppage but had organized a sit-in on May 23 and 24, 2016. They were demanding an increase in salary to align with the national minimum wage, payment of overdue bonuses and for work at stalled production lines to recommence.


Military police forces were deployed to the shipyard on May 24, where they surrounded the workers’ sit-in.

The military trial commenced in June 2016 and, due to a series of adjournments, has become an ongoing spectacle that has extended into the new year.

Of the Alexandria Shipyard Company’s 2,300 workers, some 1,200 have still not been allowed to recommence work with the company since its management imposed a lockout on May 24 and therefore cannot collect their full salary. Awwad says that 32 workers, including the 26 standing trial, remain barred from entering the company’s premises. The state has also moved to force 19 of the workers standing trial to tender their resignations in exchange for bail.

“There is increasing pressure from military officials upon the remaining workers to submit their resignations,” says Awwad.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT AUTHORITY WORKERS

Another significant case centers on the ongoing trial of six Public Transport Authority (PTA) workers who had planned to strike on September 24, the first day of the academic year, but were arrested in dawn raids.

The public bus drivers had prepared to strike to demand increased bonuses and for the PTA to be placed under the authority of the Transportation Ministry.

The six PTA workers were jailed and are being prosecuted on charges of inciting unrest within a state institution, instigating protests against the state, obstructing public transport, forming a terrorist cell within the PTA and belonging to an outlawed organization, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.
After being detained for over three months, four of the six workers were released on bail, while two remain jailed in Tora Prison pending investigations.

“My father was arrested at home,” says Seif, the son of jailed PTA worker Abdel Khaleq. “They came for him even though the strike never took place. There wasn’t even a protest. Why is my father in prison when strikes are a legitimate and legally stipulated right?”

IFFCO OILS COMPANY

The latest crackdown took place in the Suez Governorate on January 2, when police forcefully dispersed a sit-in at the privately owned IFFCO Oils Company, a subsidiary of the Dubai-based IFFCO Group, arresting scores of workers, 21 of whom are now standing trial for “instigating a strike,” while two remain jailed pending investigations.

Security forces were deployed in response to a complaint filed at the local police station in which the company’s management accused the workers of striking and obstructing production, a charge which is increasingly being leveled against workers who embark on industrial action.

Seoud Omar, a Suez-based trade unionist and regional labor organizer, says these kinds of industrial action are staged over “‘bread and butter”’ issues and are typically apolitical in nature. “Labor strikes are not criminal actions,” he asserts. “There is no terrorism, political conspiracy, or plots against the ruling regime in these non-violent labor protests.”

While Omar has seen violence used to suppress labor movements in the past, the recent developments add a new dimension. “The use of violence on the part of Ministry of Interior is not new,” he says. “But the increased use of its police forces in so many different locations is.”

Omar argues that “police are clearly acting on behalf of business interests and against workers’ basic rights,” a fact, he argues, is clearly illustrated in the raid of the IFFCO Oils Company.

Ahmed Bakr, the secretary general of the Independent Union of IFFCO Employees, says that since January 2, 27 workers have been barred from entering the company, of which 21 are standing trial, including all nine elected members of the company’s trade union committee. Bakr himself is among those facing prosecution.

The initial court hearing before the Suez Criminal Court is scheduled for January 29, which is the same day that the court is expected to issue a verdict in the case. Bakr calls this unprecedented, asking why he and his co-workers are not being granted an opportunity to defend themselves in court. “It appears that the authorities are sending a message that they won’t tolerate strikes or any labor union organization in the Suez area.”

According to Bakr, the crackdown was not limited to the 12 workers arrested at the factory, as security forces arrested three others in dawn raids. He adds that several of his co-workers were interrogated by National Security Agency representatives.

“Are protests over bonuses now a threat to national security?” he asks. “We were arrested and are now on trial like criminals because we exercised our legally protected rights.” 

EGYPTIAN FERTILIZERS COMPANY

Another notable security crackdown took place on December 5, when police raided the Egyptian Fertilizers Company (EFC) and Egyptian Basic Industries Corporation (EBIC), both of which are owned by business magnate Nassif Sawiris — Egypt’s richest man, worth an estimated $US6.1 billion.

Workers at both of Sawiris’ fertilizer companies were striking to demand higher wages in light of the flotation and devaluation of the Egyptian pound. The coordinated police raids resulted in the arrests of around 200 striking workers, who were released within hours. Two other EFC workers were taken to Attaqa Police Station and released the following day after paying LE 10,000 bail each. A total of six EFC workers — all of whom have been sacked in light of this strike — will appear before the Suez Criminal Court on January 28 on charges of “instigating a strike” and “halting production.”

Following the forced dispersal of these strikes, a half-page notice was published in the December 25 issue of the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper under the headline, “Message of thanks and appreciation from workers at EFC.” The notice asserted that, “all workers at the Egyptian Fertilizers Company express their utmost sorrow and pain regarding recent incidents,” a reference to the strike. “Workers consider themselves to be strategic partners with the owners of capital.”


Yasser al-Geneidy, who was arrested in the raid, points out that he wrote this apology together with a co-worker, under pressure from company administrators. “We were told to formulate this apology as a precondition to being reinstated,” he says.

A management official is said to have paid for this ad, which cost around LE133,000. “Many workers objected to the wording of the statement, but we did so in hopes of keeping our jobs,” according to Geneidy. “We have apologized but have not been reinstated, and now we are standing trial.”

Geneidy concludes, “Nassif [Sawiris] is much bigger and stronger than us. What can you do with a billionaire who is actually helping to fund the state? Who do you think they are going to side with?”

Omar predicts that rising inflation rates and stagnating wages, coupled with the state’s austerity measures and crackdown on workers’ protests, will result in significant labor unrest across Egypt.

“Take it from me,” Omar says. “After all these years in the labor movement, I can safely tell you that there will be a massive wave of worker protests affecting the country soon.”
___
*Seoud Omar passed away just a few days after Mada Masr conducted this interview with him.

Egypt extends military operations in Yemen to support ongoing Saudi-led war

Deutsche Welle
Egypt extends Yemen military participation, amid reports of first Trump drone strike

Egypt's National Defense Council has extended military participation in Saudi-led operation in Yemen. The first US drone strike believed to be carried out under Trump presidency has also killed two Al-Qaeda members.

Sunday 22, January 2017


Cairo announced in a statement on Sunday, that Egypt's military participation in a Saudi-led operation in Yemen has been extended by the presidency.

"The National Defense Council agreed during the meeting to extend the participation of the required elements from the Egyptian armed forces in a combat operation outside the nation's border to defend Egyptian and Arab national security in the Gulf, Red Sea, and Bab al-Mandab areas," the statement said.

The presidency failed to disclose, however, exactly how long the extension would be for.

ALMOST 70 DEATHS IN 24 HOURS

The announcement on Sunday came as medics and security sources confirmed that 66 people had been killed in Yemen in 24 hours. The fatalities occurred as forces loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi pushed forward in their efforts to oust rebels from a key west coastline.

Air strikes carried out by a Saudi-led coalition, as well as fighting near the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait killed at least 52 fighters belonging to the Shiite Huthi rebels and allied troops loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

On the pro-government side, 14 soldiers were killed and 22 wounded, according to medics in the southern port city of Aden where Hadi's government is based.

Pro-Hadi forces launched the huge offensive to retake the region overlooking the Bab al-Mandab strait on January 7. The channel is a key maritime route connecting the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

By Sunday, loyalist forces reported that they were within 10 kilometers (6 miles) of the city of Mokha, but the offensive was slowed by mines laid by rebel forces.

REPORTS OF FIRST TRUMP DRONE

Two suspected members of al Qaeda's Yemen branch were also killed on Sunday by what local officials believe was a US drone strike.

If confirmed, it would be the first such attack since Donald Trump assumed office as US president on Friday.

According to officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the men were killed when a missile hit their vehicle in the southern al-Bayda province.

In a bid to combat al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - regarded as one of the global militant group's most dangerous branches - the US controversially conducted dozens of drone strikes throughout Barack Obama's presidency. The attacks were repeatedly criticized by human rights groups, however, following the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

The newly-inaugurated Trump administration is yet to lay out a clear policy on drone strikes. However the Republican president has said he would support an escalation of the fight against Islamist militants.


 *Photo courtesy of Reuters

Italy: Parliament to host Giulio Regeni memorial scholarship campaign

Mada Masr
Italian Parliament to host Giulio Regeni memorial scholarship campaign event

January 19, 2017


Italy’s Parliament has announced it will host an event for the campaign working to establish a scholarship fund in the name of slain researcher Giulio Regeni, which would allow an Egyptian student to study at the United World College (UWC) of the Adriatic to obtain the two-year International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma.

The campaign organizers have told Mada Masr that they will launch their fundraising efforts during the parliamentary event, relying on crowdfunding to supply the necessary money for the 2018 scholarship and a matching funds program through which institutions and corporations can donate money to ensure the scholarship’s continuation.

Regeni, the 28-year-old student whose body was found in a ditch in a Cairo suburb on February 3, 2016 exhibiting signs of torture, studied at UWC-USA in New Mexico.

The idea was suggested by Regeni’s former UWC-USA classmates, Federico Torracchi and Lorenzo Bartolucci, according to the Italian La Repubblica newspaper.

The scholarship fund “sends a message that counters hatred,” Bartolucci told La Repubblica. “Giulio wanted to improve people’s lives. We want to remind people about who he was and what he did before he died.”

Regeni, a Cambridge University doctoral student, was researching labor issues and writing his PhD dissertation on Egypt’s independent trade union movement. He was conducting field research in Egypt through a one-year visiting scholar program at the American University in Cairo. He went missing on January 25, 2016, as he was traveling from his apartment in Cairo’s Dokki neighborhood in the direction of Tahrir Square amid a heavy security presence for the fifth anniversary of the January 25 revolution.

Regeni’s body was found bearing signs of torture, evident from cigarette burns, cuts, bruises and his de-nailed fingers — all hallmarks of Egyptian security forces’ torture practices. However, Egypt’s Interior Ministry has repeatedly denied responsibility for his torture and death and sought to distance themselves from the case, causing strained diplomatic relations between Egypt and Italy.

The initial police investigations to emerge from Egypt claimed that Regeni had died in a traffic accident, despite subsequent autopsy reports, which confirmed he was tortured over a period of several days.

Egypt’s Interior Ministry later claimed security forces had shot and killed five members of a gang that it claimed often stole the identities of foreign nations and with whom Regeni’s personal belongings were allegedly found. However, the family members of the five men strongly denied these claims.

Italian politicians and investigators have persistently urged Egyptian authorities to hand over all evidence concerning the case, and to cooperate more fully on ascertaining details concerning his death.

United World Colleges has played a prominent role in providing Egyptian students with education opportunities for the last 30 years.



*Photo by Riccardo Antimiani, courtesy of CameraPress/Redux

Obituary: In memory of Seoud Omar, prominent labor organizer

Mada Masr
Obituary: In memory of prominent labor activist Seoud Omar

Thursday, 19 January 2017 

Jano Charbel



The funeral service for Seoud Omar, a prominent Egyptian labor activist and an organizer in the Suez independent trade union movement who died in a traffic accident on January 13, was held in Suez City on Saturday.

The accident occurred on the road to Suez City, where Omar was returning after speaking hours earlier at a Cairo event organized by the “3ayzen Ne3esh” (We Want to Live) campaign.

Omar had long worked to pry the labor movement away from the grip of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation, which has monopolized labor action for long stretches since the union was established in 1957. He also played an important advisory role in organizing protests in seven Suez Canal Authority-affiliate companies during the 2011 popular uprising against the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak.

In late 2013, he was involved in the launch of the Thowwar Front (Revolutionaries Front) alongside other members of the Egyptian political sphere aiming to continue the goals of the January 25 revolution and move beyond the political duality of the moment that was centered on support for either the Muslim Brotherhood or the military.

The Suez City funeral attracted over 1,000 people, according to journalist Mostafa Bassiouny, who attended the service and called Omar an “exceptional labor leader.” Workers, political leaders and members of civil society, trade unions and professional syndicates traveled from governorates across Egypt to pay their respects to Omar.

After news of Omar’s death was announced, Egyptian television shows and news outlets highlighted the 55-year-old Suez Canal Authority employee’s lifetime achievements, while a number of political parties and organizations similarly issued statements of tribute.

Galal al-Gizawy – a Suez Canal Authority employee in Port Said City who worked with Omar and had been a member alongside him in the leftist Tagammu Party since the 1980s before leaving in 2005 due to disagreements over the party’s policies and leadership – called Omar “an exemplary socialist activist and a pivotal actor in promoting union consciousness among workers.” He also emphasized that Omar, who held a law degree, played an important role in providing legal advise to workers during the 2011 labor protests that coincided with popular movements against the Mubarak government.

“We have lost Seoud Omar and the labor movement feels this loss,” Gizawy said. “He leaves us with a new lot of workers and unionists who were inspired by his example. He may have passed away, but his memory will remain very much alive with us.”

Gizawi added that Omar was: “A dear friend. He was a cheerful, honest, and kindhearted man, who was constantly smiling. A smile that cannot be forgotten.”
 

Novelist Ahdaf Soueif expressed her condolences in a tweet, writing: “Seoud Omar, you had a great deal yet to offer the country.”

Ahmed Bakr, a worker at the IFFCO Oils Company in Suez, stated that Omar had helped him and his coworkers to organize their local factory union, and that he was a labor-rights “mentor” to many Egyptian workers.

Omar was instrumental in the 2011 founding of the loose association of independent labor organizations known as the Suez Federation of Unions, Bakr added. The IFFCO Oils Company Company Union in addition to cement, textile, steel, ceramic, petroleum, longshoresmen, food processing and transportation unions were brought under the wider banner provided by the federation.

The labor leader also mounted two unsuccessful bids for parliamentary election, once in 2010 and another after the January 25 revolution.

Social media users expressed their condolences for Omar using the Arabic language hashtag Seoud Omar.

Several political parties and groupings paid tribute to the Egyptian labor leader, including the Strong Egypt Party, the Revolutionary SocialistsPopular Socialist Alliance Party, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, the Bread and Freedom Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic PartySuez Youth for Change Movement and the Arab labor groupings.

In an interview conducted with Mada Masr one week before his death, Omar predicted that rising inflation rates and stagnating wages, coupled with the government’s austerity measures and crackdown on workers’ protests, would result in significant labor unrest across Egypt.

“Take it from me,” Omar said. “After all these years in the labor movement, I can safely tell you that there will be a massive wave of workers’ protests affecting the country soon.”