Sunday, December 13, 2009

Egypt: Protesting joblessness

Protesting joblessness
Mon, 07/12/2009

Jano Charbel

Over 200 workers and labor activists demonstrated Monday outside the state-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) and the ruling National Democratic Party's (NDP) headquarters in downtown Cairo.

Outside the ETUF, more than 100 protestors demanded the reinstatement of dozens of colleagues recently laid off by 35 different companies. In front of NDP headquarters, meanwhile, some 100 employees of the Egyptian Company for Telephone Units protested against the planned liquidation of the firm.

Spokespeople for both groups said their demands were being disregarded by both company and government officials.

A statement issued by the first group noted that ETUF President Hussein Megawer had "traveled all the way to Sudan to attend the Egypt-Algeria football match, while he refuses to assist persecuted workers in Egypt."

The 35 sacked workers had been employed at both public- and private-sector companies, including the Indorama Shebin Textile Company; the Tanta Flax and Oils Company; the Mahalla Textile Company; the Nile Cotton Ginning Company; the Fayoum Textile Company; Trust Textiles, Bolivar Textiles; El-Hennawy Tobacco Company; and the Fayoum Sugar Company.

Surrounded by black-clad security personnel, protestors outside the ETUF chanted, "We want a free union; our lives have grown bitter" and "Workers' rights before profits."

"Six of us received court orders saying we were to be reinstated at our jobs, but the Saudi investor [Abdel Ellah al-Kaaky] and the company's administration have refused to recognize these orders," trade unionist Hisham el-Okal, one of nine striking workers to be recently sacked from the Tanta Flax Company, told Al-Masry Al-Youm. "We've sent innumerable letters to the ETUF, the Manpower Ministry and the prime minister regarding our situation, but to no avail."

"We're demonstrating today in hopes of applying pressure on these officials, but--as usual--we don't expect them to heed our demands," el-Okal added. "[General Union for Textile Workers President] Saeed el-Gohary, Hussein Megawer and [Manpower Minister] Aisha Abdel Hady only offer us stopgap solutions."

Megawer, for his part, could not be reached for comment.

"Company management is squandering public resources and preparing to liquidate the firm and force us all into early retirement," said Fayoum Textile Company worker Abdel Tawwab Bakir. "There were 500 employees at the company in 2007, whereas now there are only 328."

"We just want to continue working so as to provide for our families," Bakir added.

Outside NDP headquarters, meanwhile, ranks of security personnel likewise cordoned off protesting employees of the Egyptian Company for Telephone Units. Police officers at the scene threatened journalists attempting to cover the incident with arrest and prevented them from speaking with demonstrators.

"We didn't manage to meet any NDP officials, but we did speak with the deputy president of the National Council for Human Rights and gave him our list of demands," worker Ahmed Ibrahim told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

"Production has been halted at the company for the past six months, while most employees haven't been paid in three months," Ibrahim added. "And the Jordanian investor, Ayman Hegawy, is planning to liquidate the company and dismiss all remaining 960 workers."

He went on to explain that the company, established in 1966 and privatized in 1999, had made an annual profit of LE30 million in 1999 alone. "Yet the company has incurred millions of pounds of debts since its privatization due to mismanagement," he said.

"We want this company to remain in business; we want to continue working," Ibrahim concluded. "But if they're going to liquidate it, we demand fair end-of-service payments, along with reimbursement for the 10 percent of company shares held by workers."

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