Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Workers Demos Outside Egyptian Parliament

Salemco workers settle, but Amonsito strikers remain on downtown sidewalk
Mon, 15/03/2010

Philip Rizk

On Sunday at 4 PM the Salemco workers took down their banners and rolled up their blankets. By 5 PM they had disappeared from the sidewalk on Qasr el-Ainy Street in downtown Cairo where they had been sleeping for ten consecutive days.

The sit-in came to an end after successful negotiations between the textile factory union leaders, factory owner Mohamed Abdel Halim, and Minister of Manpower and Migration Aisha Abdel Hady.

To end the strike, the Ministry of Manpower committed to paying six months basic salaries for 216 workers. Many more unregistered, newer hires are not among those to be reimbursed.

“If I had negotiated for unregistered day laborers, the owner would likely have fired them,” said Subhi Khattab, the head of the Salemco workers' union.

According to Khattab, this is this practice is typical with day laborers in Egypt. Firing of short-term employees leads to no repercussions for the factory owner.

Abdel Halim promised to pay the remainder of monthly salaries for the 216 workers by Tuesday 16 March.

In Sunday’s agreement, the factory owner also committed to addressing other issues, such as delayed social bonuses, by the second half of April.

Fathi Mohamed, one of the Salemco workers was enthusiastic. “This is the first time that the minister sat down personally with our union representatives,” he said. “She had to act under the pressure.”

However, some other strikers said they were still confused about why there was no concrete agreement between the union leaders and the government on the getting factory running again. For three years, Abdel Halim has shut down the factory for months at a time, in what the workers say is an effort to encourage them to leave.

Khaled el-Shishawy, union head of the Amonsito protesters, who have been sitting in alongside the Salemco workers to save their company from liquidation, looked with disapproval on the accord. Sheikh Khaled, as he is called by his compatriots, considered the government promises nothing but “anesthesia."

"They won nothing, our resolve is even stronger than it was before,” he said.

Surrounded by his fellow protestors el-Shishawy continued: “If we spend another two or three months here and they don’t give us any conclusive decisions, we still won’t leave.”

The Amonsito workers are still awaiting an evaluation from a committee that researched the viability of re-opening their factory.

In related developments, the Tanta Flax and Oils Company workers who concluded on 23 February their own sit-in at nearby location in downtown say they still have not been paid the agreed to compensation for the factory’s shutdown.

Hisham Okal, who was fired but remains active in the Tanta Flax workers union, said that workers are close to agreeing that they will return to protesting if the company owner and government do not fulfill agreements.

Today, around 500 workers demonstrated in front of the factory compound in Meit Hebeish, a village south of Tanta, calling for the factory's return to the public sector.

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