Sunday, March 30, 2014

Police arrest 5 postal strikers; Doctors start resignation campaign

Mada Masr
Police arrest Alexandria workers as strikes continue nationwide

Tuesday March 25, 2014

Jano Charbel

Despite official attempts to bring an end to a wave of labor unrest that contributed to the downfall of Hazem al-Beblawi's government, a broad range of Egypt's labor workforce embarked on nationwide strikes on Tuesday.

Notable developments on Tuesday included the arrest of several striking postal workers in Alexandria, along with the beginning of a mass-resignation campaign by striking doctors. Doctors, dentists, pharmacists, postal workers, textile workers and custodial staff all staged walk-outs during the day.

Official attempts to quell the postal workers’ strike in Egypt’s second city led to the arrest of five independent union organizers. These arrests, however, served to widen the scope of the postal workers’ unrest Tuesday, the third day of their strike. 

More than 50,000 employees of the state-owned postal services have been on strike across the country since Sunday.

These arrests took place following legal charges filed to the office of the prosecutor general by the chief of the postal bureau in Alexandria. Seven other workers have also been issued arrest warrants.

The postal chief had claimed workers were attempting to obstruct public postal services, instigate work stoppages, and that workers were affiliated to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which the state classified as a terrorist organization in December.

A number of local media outlets, however, reported that families of the arrested strikers rejected claims that their goals are politicized or that they are affiliated to the Brotherhood. The family members also denounced the police raids and arrests of workers from their homes. 

A number of other media reports mentioned that the postal strike had a negative impact for both clients and customers, and was perceived as an unpopular action by workers.

Speaking at the Journalists Syndicate on Sunday, Zeinab Farag, a trade unionist and strike leader from the Giza Postal Bureau, commented that she and tens of thousands of her colleagues had embarked on strike action as they were excluded from receiving the newly imposed LE1,200 monthly minimum wage, were not paid overdue bonuses and, in some cases, actually received deductions to their salaries.

“There’s enough money and resources to provide for our demands, yet the postal authorities do not care about us, nor do they care about our livelihoods," Farag said.

Farag and her colleagues claim that 90 percent of postal workers are on strike.

Several medical physicians meanwhile submitted their resignations to the Ministry of Health on Tuesday. This campaign of mass resignations comes amid the 18 consecutive day of strike action.

These strikes include partial work stoppages which do not affect emergency rooms, intensive care wards, nurseries, dialysis, urgent surgeries or other pressing medical conditions. A string of partial strikes were launched at the beginning of this year.

Joining them in this strike action are the Dentists Syndicate and Pharmacists Syndicate. The joint strike committee for these medical professions claims that around 75 percent of constituents are maintaining partial strike action in public health facilities.

The Health Ministry, on the other hand, claims that only around 30 percent of these medical personnel are actually participating in strikes.

The mass resignation campaign meanwhile aims to escalate pressure on the health and finance ministries in order to realize strikers’ objectives: raising doctors’ starting salaries to at least the level of the minimum wage, implementing an incremental pay scale, increasing compensations for infectious illnesses, improving safety standards at public hospitals, and raising the allocation for healthcare in the national budget — from  under four percent to 15 percent.

Amr al-Shora, board member of the Doctors Syndicate commented, "Today was the first day of planning for this campaign of mass resignations.”  

He clarified that the resignations would be submitted to the Health Ministry once a certain number of signatories has been reached. The syndicate’s objective is the collection of 20,000 signatures of resignation prior to the submission.

Shora commented that he was the 11th syndicate board member to sign the roster of resignations, although “many others have also signed on to this list of collective resignations.

Some state-owned media outlets have suggested that strikes and resignations would not improve, but harm, the country’s medical healthcare system.

"Public hospitals lack proper facilities, equipment and funding," Shora said in response. "This is what really harms Egypt’s patients. We are part of a medical system with sub-human standards. This is our way of challenging this broken system, and aspiring to improve it.”

The syndicate board member added that further escalatory actions will be proposed and discussed on Friday during the Doctors’ Syndicate General Assembly meeting.

Meanwhile in the Nile Delta city of Kafr al-Dawwar, over 2,000 textile workers from the state-owned Misr Spinning and Weaving Company went on strike for the second day, demanding the payment of the new minimum wage, overdue bonuses, increased investments in the public sector textile industry, as well as the re-operation of stalled production lines within their industrial complex.

Also in Beheira Governorate, several hundred custodial workers and street cleaners in Kafr al-Dawwar and Damanhour, continued with strike actions for the eight consecutive day.

They demanded contracts for fulltime work, along with the payment of the new minimum wage.

*Photo by Mai Shaheen

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