Thursday, November 20, 2008

Around 100 Train Conductors from Different Governorates Hold Protest Stand Demanding Improved Wages at Cairo’s Ramsis Station

Nearly one hundred train conductors/drivers staged a protest stand on Thursday, November 20th in central Cairo’s Railway Station at Ramsis Square in demand of improved wages and working conditions. These railway workers, along with others, have announced their intention to strike if their demands are not met by Monday, November 24. The workers’ negotiations with the Egyptian National Railways Authority are expected to continue until that date.

These workers have demanded that the Egyptian National Railways Authority raise their mileage pay - from the unrealistically low rate of 9 piasters per kilometer, to a mere 25 piasters per kilometer.

Numerous workers agreed that the new Railway Authority President, Mahmoud Sami, has disregarded all their grievances and pleas. These railway workers also denounced their local trade union committee, which they said is dragging its feet in negotiations with the ENRA’s officials and “is bargaining for peanuts.”

An enraged train conductor, who identified himself as “Karam,” shouted: “We demand improved mileage pay, we are only asking that they pay us at the rate of 25 piasters per kilometer. We also demand adequate compensation for work-related injuries, realistic medical compensation pay, and the payment of travel compensation.”

Ramadan Mohammad Ali, a train conductor from the Southern Egyptian Governorate of El Minya, said: “I’ve been working on a diesel powered train for 20 years now and I receive only LE 600 per month (around US$ 113/month.) How am I to subsist on this meager wage in this day and age? This sum is insufficient for me alone – so how am I supposed to feed my wife and two children?”

Another train driver from the Nile Delta City of Tanta, Mohammad El Masri, said “I’ve been working here for 13 years, however, despite all these years of service I am paid only LE 350 per month (around US$ 66/month.) Moreover, we are penalized with deductions from our wages for malfunctions aboard the old trains that we operate. This is injustice!”

A few train conductors/drivers led a group of journalists along with them to inspect their typical daily working conditions - on board a worn-out and faulty locomotive. Oil and grease covered the floorboards in the engine room; the slippery floors provide for extremely hazardous working conditions amongst the burning engines and moving mechanical parts. The control panels looked like a recipe for disaster.

There are some six or seven thousand train drivers/conductors servicing the ENRA across Egypt. Repressive Egyptian labor laws and codes prohibit railway workers from undertaking strike action; nonetheless desperate railway workers have occasionally conducted strikes in defense of their rights.