Monday, October 11, 2010

Sacked Egyptian workers protest for their rights

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Sacked workers stage protest outside rights council headquarters
October 10, 2010

Jano Charbel

Around 50 workers and their families, along with labor activists and lawyers, congregated outside the headquarters of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) and the National Council for Women (NCW) on Sunday to protest “arbitrary and punitive lay-offs” and demand reinstatement.

A delegation of workers and lawyers met with officials from the state-appointed NCHR and NCW, where they received pledges that their grievances would be forwarded and investigated within 15 days. Neither the NCHR nor the NCW, however, have the authority to reinstate workers.

Journalists were barred from attending the meeting.

“This is one of the most promising visits that we've conducted in search of our rights,” said Ghareeb Saqr, a worker-delegate from the Misr-Iran Textile Company. He added that officials from both the NCHR and the NCW had informed the workers that they were merely "consultative councils."

"Nonetheless, they took note of all grievances filed by workers who were sacked for demanding their wages, bonuses, benefits, rights, and/or the establishment of unions,” said Saqr.

The workers, labor activists and lawyers are considering staging another protest at the state-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) on 17 October. The workers had previously staged a protest and sleep-in at ETUF headquarters from 1 to 2 September. Although police had forcefully dispersed these workers, they still managed to meet with ETUF President Hussein Megawer. Megawer offered them reduced assistance payments from the federation’s emergency fund and reportedly informed them that the ETUF would not provide any additional payments.

The sacked workers, who are from ten public- and private-sector companies, have organized a campaign dubbed “We will not be afraid.” According to their leaflet, the campaign aims at: having the ETUF cancel punitive lay-off orders and arbitrary deductions in pay; halting trumped-up charges against workers before the courts; providing assistance payments to sacked workers; and providing transportation fees for those workers who are punitively relocated until they can be reinstated in their original workplaces.

Workers are from the state-owned Mahalla Textile Company, the Petotrade Company (affiliated with the Ministry of Petroleum), Rural Health Guides (female workers affiliated with the Ministry of Health in the Assiut Governorate), the private Misr-Iran Textile Company, Ameriya Textile Company, Indorama Shebine Textile Company, Mansoura-Espagna Textile Company, and the Future Company for Pipe Production.

Rural Health Guide Mona Abdel Same’a said: “Thirty-three of us have been working with the Health Ministry in Assiut for at least 16 years now. Now they want to employ us on new temporary contracts and strike off all the bonuses and benefits that we earned during our service.” She added that the Rural Health Guides had been laid off after rejecting the new temporary contracts.

Karim Reda, a former employee of the Petrotrade Company, sacked in December 2009 for attempting to establish a trade union for company employees and workers, said: “Four employees, myself included, were punitively sacked for our organizational efforts. The company’s administration refused to renew the contracts of another two worker-activists who had raised similar demands.”

Ayman Ali, a former worker at the Indorama Shebine Textile Company, said: “Around 250 workers have been laid-off since the company was privatized in 2006, many of whom were sacked on account of their labor activism.”

On 25 July, sacked workers from 25 companies--including many of those protesting today--staged a silent protest outside the regional headquarter of the International Labor Organization (ILO). These workers called on officials to apply pressure on the Egyptian state to implement ILO Conventions No. 87 and 98, regarding "Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize" and the "Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining" respectively.

ILO officials informed workers that they would take note of their grievances, but stressed that they were not empowered to reinstate sacked workers or enforce workers’ demands. The Egyptian state voluntarily ratified ILO Convention No. 98 in 1954, ratifying Convention No. 87 three years later.

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