Sunday, November 14, 2010

Protesting against "insufficient" new minimum wage

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Tensions continue to mount over recent minimum wage ruling

Mon, 08/11/2010

Jano Charbel

Over a hundred labor activists and workers staged a protest on Sunday evening outside the Journalists' Syndicate in downtown Cairo, demanding Egypt's minimum wage be raised to LE1,200 (around US$215) per month. Angry chants and slogans were directed against government officials who, during the last month, set the new national minimum wage to LE400 (around US$70) per month.

Following the protest, workers and activists joined in a panel discussion at the syndicate. Demonstration leaders announced they will file on November 30 a judicial appeal against this "insufficient" new minimum wage.

The lion's share of criticism and angry slogans, during both the demonstration and panel discussion, were directed towards Minister of State for Economic Development, Othman Mohamed Othman, who also presides over the National Council for Wages (NCW). The government-appointed NCW established the new minimum monthly wage on 28 October, and appears completely unwilling to heed demands to increase the figure.

Government officials claim the national budget cannot support such wages for public sector workers. They argue raising wages to this level will fuel inflation. Last week Othman announced the government could locate economical labor if it elects to do so. On a TV talk show Othman said "we could get cheaper labor from Bangladesh, and they would be satisfied with LE400 or less."

The last official minimum wage was set in 1984, at LE35 (around US$6) per month. NCW officials, however, claim a more recent minimum wage was set in 2008 at LE355 (less than US$65) per month. The NCW decision to raise the wage to LE400 came just two days after an Administrative Court verdict, issued on 26 October, ruled authorities must set a new minimum wage in light of rising living expenses. This was the second court verdict to this effect. The courts, however, do not have jurisdiction to determine the actual minimum wage.

Both of these court cases were filed by Khaled Ali, labor lawyer and director of the independent Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, on behalf of Nagy Rashad, a worker at the state-owned South Cairo Grain Mill. Rashad charged "what the National Council for Wages is offering us is not an adequate minimum wage, but a joke."

The demand for a minimum wage of LE1,200 per month dates back to the year 2007, he added. "LE1,200 is an old demand, it is barely sufficient for an individual to support himself in this day and age; and it is currently insufficient for those who have children or other family members to support."

Ali commented on the lack of willingness on the government's part to implement this new minimum wage in the public sector. "The minimum wage of LE400, as insufficient as it is, must be established as the basic minimum wage, not the total monthly minimum wage" (which also includes bonuses, benefits, etc.).

He added that this basic minimum wage "must be enforced, not only in the private sector, but also in the public sector and in all state-owned enterprises. It was the National Council for Wages which established this new minimum wage, so it must be enforced on the national level."

Ali stated that he would file for a third judicial hearing, against the new minimum wage, on 30 November on the grounds that LE400 per month is insufficient in light of current living expenses. He intends on utilizing economic studies and indicators to support his legal case.

Other activists raised calls for the government to establish a minimum monthly pension, a maximum monthly salary for government officials, a system of progressive taxation and independent trade unions, as well as curbing ministers' salaries and benefits.

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