Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ain Sokhna Port strike ends, but demands remain

Egypt Independent

Ain Sokhna Port crisis ends, but demands remain

Fri, 26/10/2012

Jano Charbel

While workers at the Ain Sokhna Port called off their 12-day long strike and returned to work on Wednesday after reaching a settlement with the Dubai Ports World company, the Ministry of Manpower, Suez Governorate, and the presidential envoy, the strikers' chief demand of reinstating eight sacked co-workers is still being addressed.

Mohamed Fouad, President's Mohamed Morsy's legal affairs adviser, and Dispute Settlement Secretary of the Ministry of Manpower Nahed al-Ashri were able to reach an agreement with management and strikers by which to re-operate the strategic Red Sea port - offering them concessions and pledges to meet their demands. 

By Wednesday, one of the eight sacked workers agreed to terminate his contract with the company and accepted a monetary compensation, while the seven others are being reinstated pending an administrative disciplinary hearing from DP World regarding their role in inciting strikes at the port.

Meanwhile a joint panel has been formed - consisting of the governor of Suez, Suez's security chief, DP World management representatives, and workers' representatives - to address the rest of the demands and grievances raised by workers in this strike and in previous strikes .

This latest strike, which translated into a complete work stoppage came about following the sacking of eight workers on 12 October and escalated into an acrimonious dispute that threatened to damage not only DP World, but the wider Egyptian economy.

The 2,000 DP World workers have ceased all work at the strategic port, bringing DP World to a standstill. More than 800 were involved occupying the port in shifts, said Ayman Abdallah, one of the workers who was dismissed, at presser held by the workers last Monday. 

Since last year, port workers have also been demanding job security, full-time contracts for full-time work, overdue profit-sharing payments, periodic bonuses, hazard compensation and improved working conditions. The failure to realize these demands, coupled with the dismissal of eight workers earlier this month, led workers to launch their open-ended strike.

The workers who were dismissed produced a memorandum of understanding signed by DP World officials, the Red Sea governor, and the Manpower Ministry, stating: “No workers are to be harassed or laid off because of the aforementioned demands.”

DP World officials claim they laid off the eight workers in compliance with the Unified Labor Law 12/2003. The sacked workers disagree.

Speaking at the headquarters of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions, Mohamed Abdel Ghany — one of the eight fired workers — commented, “We received notices from DP World claiming that we were fired due to our incompetence as workers.”

“Why are we today deemed to be incompetent?” asked Abdel Ghany, who has been employed at the port for the past 16 years. “It is because they have no other excuse with which to fire us, and they’re not willing to admit that they fired us because we helped organize an independent union at our workplace, or that we helped organize the strike.”

Abdallah, who has been employed at the port for 14 years, agreed. “Why did they hold on to us for more than a decade?” he asked.

Abdallah argued that this was a punitive measure taken by DP World against the eight workers in light of their organizing.

“Such punitive sackings are a blatant violation of the Labor Law,” he said.

A third dismissed worker, Osama Saad, said they were fired because they were “the eight most vocal workers at the port.”

“Our coworkers are striking in solidarity with us and demanding our reinstatement,” he said. “Yet they are striking not merely for our sake, but out of fear and a sense of insecurity that they too may be fired in the future for demanding their rights.”

Regarding lost revenue, DP World officials have said the port has lost LE120 million in the first eight days of the strike alone — averaging LE15 million of losses each day.

Moreover, Kadmar, a local transit company that ships Turkish goods to Saudi Arabia, has stated that the strike at Ain Sokhna port has forced the company to reroute its shipments via Israel. Saudi-bound shipments, which were due to pass through Ain Sokhna, have been redirected to the Israeli port of Haifa, and are then transferred overland via Jordan to Saudi Arabia.

Kadmar officials have threatened of canceling its export contracts from Turkey to Egypt if the strike was to continue. 

Abdallah explained that, in light of the Ain Sokhna strike, many shipments were transferred to the nearby Red Sea port of Adabiya rather than Israel’s Haifa. This statement could not be independently verified, however, as Kadmar and DP World officials could not be reached for comment.

Both Kadmar and DP World claimed their businesses are being negatively affected as a result of the Ain Sokhna strike. Kadmar and DP World also pointed to the national economy, saying it is hurting as a result of this strike.

Commenting on the millions of pounds of lost revenue, Abdallah said that if the company heeded the workers’ demands, it would cost them about LE10 million.

“Instead they (were) resisting, and have led us to strike, and in doing so have incurred more than LE120 million in losses,” he said.

Abdallah did concede that “these losses are not in Egypt’s interest.” But, he said, the strike “serves to protect the interests of Egypt’s workers.”

With more than 60 terminals across six continents, DP World is the world’s third largest port operator.

Media reports last week suggested the strikers were threatening to escalate their actions by burning down the port, but the dismissed workers vehemently denied these claims.

“These are lies,” Abdallah retorted. “How could we possibly burn down the port that is our source of income? It is propaganda directed against us and against our peaceful strike.”

“The government talks about protecting investors, but these are not investors — they are colonizers,” Saad said.

They also dispel rumors that they seized ships and prevented them from leaving the port.

*An earlier version of this piece appears in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.


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