Thursday, February 27, 2014

Over 100,000 workers strike & challenge new government

Mada Masr

Wave of labor strikes continues amid political uncertainty

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Jano Charbel

The government’s top priorities include the cessation of strikes, increasing productivity and output, along with restoring calm to Egypt’s streets, according to press statements released on Tuesday by newly appointed Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab.

Monday’s surprise resignation of Prime Minister Hazem al-Biblawi along with his entire Cabinet has been partly attributed to an upsurge of strikes and other industrial actions over the past month — together with the government’s apparent inability to address a host of labor grievances.

Despite the Cabinet’s sudden dissolution, well over 100,000 workers nationwide are still on strike or are engaged in other forms of labor protest nationwide.

Strikers include bus drivers and other employees of the Public Transport Authority (PTA), postal workers, employees of public notary offices, field surveyors, street cleaners, microbus drivers, doctors, pharmacists, veterinarians and dentists.

Topping the strikers’ list of common demands is the provision of the newly applied monthly minimum wage — of LE1,200 (around US$172) — among public sector enterprises. This new minimum wage went into effect at the end January.

Other demands include fulltime contracts for fulltime work, the payment of overdue bonuses, safer working conditions, re-operation of stalled factories, reinstatement of sacked workers, the resignations of state officials accused of corruption and mismanagement.

In his press statements Mahlab recognized the legitimate rights and grievances of Egypt’s strikers, and pledged to assist these disgruntled workers to the utmost of his ability — but within the confines of the government’s capacity and national budget.

However, Tuesday also witnessed the first official attempt at strike-breaking this year. The Ministry of Defense and Governorate of Cairo moved to operate both private minibuses and army buses with the aim of weakening a four-day-long PTA strike.

Officials from the ministry and governorate claim that the operation of these buses is merely intended to facilitate the transport of stranded commuters and to alleviate traffic congestions around Greater Cairo.

“Instead of attempting to resolve our grievances or granting us our basic rights, governmental officials are ignoring our demands and seeking to thwart our strike,” said Adel al-Shazly, President of the Independent Union of PTA Employees.

Speaking at a press conference at the headquarters of the independent Egyptian Democratic Labor Confederation (EDLC), Shazly added, “Government officials and their media outlets have gone so far as to claim that we are politicized troublemakers, or even members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s sleeper cells.”

Also speaking at the press conference was public post office employee Mohamed Saftawi. He described the postal workers’ strike as “a direct result of our being excluded from entitlement to the minimum wage.”

Saftawi went on to say, “Postal authorities refuse to accept our right to establish an independent union in the post offices in which we work. This while the Ministry of Communication and Ministry of Manpower neglect our many grievances.”

We have no access to arbitration or other dispute-resolution mechanisms while working with the postal authority,” he said.

According to Talal Shokr, EDLC board member, “Government officials continue to fail in providing the so-called minimum wage — even among public sector workers, who are supposed to be the primary beneficiaries of this new law.”

The new minimum wage – or minimum income – has been extended to some 4.9 million public sector employees from a total of around seven million in this sector. Those officially entitled to receive the monthly LE1,200 represent less than 18 percent of Egypt’s total workforce.

Shokr added that strikes could be averted by upholding the minimum wage on a national level, the state’s entry into collective bargaining agreements with local unions, replacement of outdated labor and union laws, the imposition of a maximum wage for state officials, the provision of adequate insurance payments and a minimum pension for retired workers.

Mohamed Omar, a worker at the state-owned Helwan Steel and Iron Company, commented, “Governmental authorities continue to ignore our labor rights and professional demands – until they are pressured by strikes or sit-ins.”

Omar claimed that the Helwan Steel and Iron Company has thus far incurred losses amounting to LE519 million.

According to Omar, “Corruption and financial mismanagement are a main source of labor grievances not only within our company or industry — but also in the (public sector) textile industry, along with other industries and services.”

Public sector textile workers had launched a 12-day strike at the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla (Egypt’s largest textile complex) on February 10. Some 22,000 workers at this company have been demanding the new minimum wage, and the resignation of the Textile Holding Company’s president, Fouad Abdel Aleem, who oversees 32 affiliated textile companies.

Twelve other public sector textile companies joined in Mahalla’s strike, leading to around 45,000 textile workers halting production to demand Abdel Aleem’s resignation.

Workers, and even state auditors, point out that several billion pounds worth of losses have been incurred under Abdel Aleem’s administration.

After receiving promises that their demands would be met, these striking textile workers chose to suspend their strikes on February 22. They announced their intention to resume strike action within 60 days if their demands are not realized.

Mahmoud Kashef a worker from the state-owned Kafr al-Dawwar Textile Company criticized the state’s provision of minimum wage and bonuses. Kashef pointed out that interim Egyptian “President Adly Mansour quickly responded to policemen’s protests and strikes earlier this month, while he chose to ignore our longstanding demands for a decent living wage.”

Kashef pointed out that following a few days of police protests, Mansour agreed on February 19 to raise policemen's bonuses by 30 percent. “Why are we denied the same decent treatment and respect shown to the police forces?”



No comments: