Thursday, February 27, 2014

Resurgence of strikes & industrial actions across Egypt

Mada Masr 
Resurgence of strikes and industrial action across the country

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jano Charbel 

Over the past couple of days Egypt has witnessed the largest upsurge of strikes and industrial action this year, as tens of thousands of workers, policemen and professionals protest over their work-related grievances.

Recent industrial action includes workers at Egypt’s largest textile company, a nationwide doctors’ strike, police protests in several governorates, the occupation of the state-controlled trade union federation by sacked textile workers, along with a host of other labor manifestations.
Misr Spinning and Weaving Company — Mahalla City
An estimated 13,000 workers at Egypt’s largest textile company — the state-owned Misr Spinning and Weaving Company — have been on strike for the second consecutive day.

Launching their strike on Monday, thousands of disgruntled textile workers occupied their company and embarked on protest marches across the Nile Delta city.

Mahalla’s textile workers are striking over four main demands: overdue profit-sharing payments (amounting to two months wages per worker), the receipt of the new minimum wage, the dismissal of a top textile official, and the election of labor representatives on the company’s administrative board.

Workers have been demanding their profit-sharing payments, which they had periodically been receiving for several years prior to the company’s incurring of massive losses. The company’s administration has pointed out that there are currently no profits to be shared.

On Monday, Egypt’s cabinet proposed to inject LE157 million into the Mahalla company towards workers’ bonuses, in the hope that workers would call-off their strike — to no avail.

According to Sayyed Habib, a member of the (independent) Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, and a former worker at the company, “the primary demand of this strike is the permanent removal of Fouad Abdel Aleem from his post as chief of the Textile Holding Company, and his investigation.”

Abdel Aleem presided over the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company several years ago, during which time the company began to accumulate massive debts, which workers claim are attributable to his administration’s corruption, negligence, and financial mismanagement.

Despite his poor track record, state officials promoted Abdel Aleem to lead the Textile Holding Company, after having unsuccessfully presided over the Mahalla company for years.

Habib and others from Mahalla, are calling for an impartial investigation into the billions of pounds worth of losses incurred by the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company under Abdel Aleem’s administration in recent years.
Other textile strikes
An estimated 2,000 workers from two other public-sector textile companies — the Tanta Delta Textile Company, and the Zaqaziq Spinning and Weaving Company — launched strikes on Monday.

Textile workers put forth demands nearly identical to those of the Mahalla Spinning and Weaving Company.

Elsewhere, several hundred workers at the Misr Helwan Textiles Company — located south of Cairo — also went on strike for the same demands.

Other protests and work stoppages were reported in a host of smaller textile mills nationwide.
In light of these strikes in the public-sector textiles industry, the Minister of Investment proposed on Tuesday that the state invest LE6 billion over the course of the next 33 months to improve wages and working conditions in textile companies.
Police strikes and protests
Partial strikes were reported amongst low-ranking policemen in the governorates of Sharqiya, Minya and Wadi al-Gadeed since the beginning of the week for demands including: increased bonuses and compensations, a minimum wage, and (in some locales) the Interior Ministry’s provision of firearms to all policemen.

Meanwhile police protests — for nearly identical demands — have been staged in the governorates of Gharbiya and Alexandria.
Medical strikes
Doctors staged a strike on Monday, with another scheduled for Wednesday with the added participation of the Pharmacists Syndicate.

Doctors, pharmacists, and veterinarians have embarked on a string of partial strikes since the beginning of the year in demand of: improved salaries, an incremental pay-scale, safer hospitals/medical facilities/working conditions, and a larger national healthcare budget.

The Doctors Syndicate has also been calling on the Health Ministry to conduct investigations into the fatalities of four doctors who recently died after contracting unidentified respiratory illnesses from patients at public hospitals. Several other physicians have reportedly fallen ill as a result of similar respiratory conditions.

Both the Health Ministry and local representatives from the World Health Organization have denied that the four fatalities were the result of the H1N1 strain of Swine Flu.

The Health Ministry claims that the last two physicians’ strikes garnered participation of less than 20 percent.

However, the Doctors Syndicate claimed a participation rate of over 50 percent during the course of their strikes this month.

Although the Nurses Syndicate has not officially endorsed the medical syndicates’ strikes, around 400 nurses at the Sidi Salem Central Hospital in the Nile Delta Governorate of Kafr al-Sheikh went on strike Tuesday, demanding the payment of a 40 percent bonus, which the hospital’s board had cancelled.

Tanta Flax Company & Shebin al-Kom Textile Company
Around 100 sacked workers from the Tanta Flax Company and the Shebin al-Kom Textile Company have been occupying the headquarters of the (state-controlled) Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) since Sunday.

Thousands of workers from these two — previously state-owned — companies have been sacked over the course of the past ten years. Last year, the Administrative Court found that the two companies (along with three others) were sold-off to investors at far less than their true market value.

The court nullified the privatization contracts for the Tanta Flax and Shebin Textile Companies, and called on the state to re-operate these stalled companies.

According to Hisham al-Oql, a sacked worker/unionist formerly employed at the Tanta Flax Company, “we are simply demanding that governmental officials uphold the judiciary’s verdicts regarding the re-operation of our company.”

Following two days of negotiations with ETUF board members, President Gebali al-Maraghi sent telegraphs to the offices of the presidency, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Manpower, and Textile Holding Company, calling on these state authorities to re-operate the companies and to reinstate the sacked workers.

Workers from both companies — the Tanta Flax and Shebin Textiles — are planning a protest outside the Council of Ministers Wednesday. Cabinet sources have hinted that these two companies may be re-operating by 2015, yet workers are demanding an immediate and gradual return to operations.

*Photo of Mahalla's striking textile workers courtesy of Aswat Masriya

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