Monday, August 17, 2009

Tanta Flax Company Strike Enters its 80th Day

Around 200 striking workers from the Tanta Flax and Oils Company embarked on an open-ended demonstration outside the Ministry of Labor today, which marks the 80th day of their strike. Frustrated at the impasse with their company's administration and owner the workers turned to Labor Minister Aisha Abdel Hady in the hope that she could help them realize their six demands. As a pressure mechanism, hundreds of workers at the Tanta Company have announced their intention to launch a hunger strike as of tomorrow.

Some 1,000 workers at the company commenced their strike 80 days ago raising the demands of: reinstating nine co-workers sacked under the pretext of "inciting labor unrest;" the provision of workers' profit-sharing which has been overdue for three years; the provision of incentive pay which has been withheld since 2003; the payment of workers' social insurance expenses withheld since May 2009; and increasing each worker's monthly food allowance from LE 31 per month to LE 90.

Workers chanted slogans denouncing the company owner, a Saudi investor named Abdel Ellah el-Kaaki, and the Egyptian administrative executive Mohamed el-Seihy as being "thieves." The Tanta Flax and Oils Company was privatized over the course of three years from 2005-07. The workers at this company have staged four strikes over the past three years. During their most recent strike the workers have demonstrated outside the Saudi Embassy, blocked-off the Tanta-Zefta highway, and have called for the re-nationalization of the company; with a few militant laborers even calling for workers' self-management of the company.

Hisham el-Oqal, the local union's deputy treasurer is one of the nine workers who were fired. He said "we have sent numerous faxes to the General Union for Textile Workers, the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, the Labor Ministry and to the Prime Minister but no avail. None of these authorities seem concerned with our plight. We hope that the government will heed our demands, but if they don't then we will continue to escalate our protests. We shall not leave Cairo until our demands our met."

Gamal Othman, another sacked worker said "I have been issued a court order according to which I am to be reinstated in the company, but the administration has ignored this court order. We will not leave until Aisha Abdel Hady meets with us and resolves all our problems. Otherwise we will sleep here on the sidewalk outside the ministry until our demands are met or until we are all arrested, beaten or even killed by the security forces." Othman added "we are sick and tired of being ignored. We have repeatedly met with Aisha and the head of the Labor Disputes Bureau at the Ministry Dr. Nahed el-Ashry, as well as Hussein Megawer (President of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation), and Saeed el-Gohary (President of the state-controlled General Union for Textile Workers) from whom we have receive nothing but empty promises."

Saeed el-Gohary said "we have appealed several times to the Tanta Flax Company's administration and its investor to engage in negotiations with us and indeed we managed to meet with them last month; we came upon a tentative agreement with which to resolve this strike and on this basis we called upon the local union president to call off the strike. However, neither the administration nor the investor fulfilled their part of the agreement. Naturally this has angered the workers and they are continuing with their strike."

This strike is the first one to ever be authorized by the General Union for Textile Workers. Commenting as to why the general union authorized this strike and not any other strike since 1957, el-Gohary said "this is a special case. In its attempts to reclaim these workers' rights, the labor minister and the president of the ETUF had been engaged in negotiations with the company over the course of the past three years. However, the company's administration failed to respond. Moreover, they have been threatening to take punitive measures against these mistreated workers, that's why we moved to authorize this strike."

El-Gohary concluded by saying "we are currently considering the cancellation of the Textile Holding Company's contract with the investors, or returning the Tanta Company to state-ownership. If this is not feasible and the company is liquidated then we demand that the workers should be given proper compensations and should granted their full entitlements and rights. Hussein Megawer has filed a memo to Prime Minister Nazif regarding the sacked workers, and the other grievances. We expect the Prime Minister to intervene swiftly in order to resolve this crisis."

Hoping for workers' self-management in Tanta,

Al-Masry Al-Youm: Tanta Flax Company strike enters its 80th day

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