Sunday, March 30, 2014

Security break up workers' sit-in at state union federation

Mada Masr

March 12, 2014

Jano Charbel

Security personnel at the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) forcefully dispersed a sit-in protest of more than 20 workers from the federation’s headquarters Wednesday.
While none of the protesting workers were arrested, a number of minor injuries were reported.

This dispersal ends a 34-day sit-in by workers from the Tanta Flax and Oils Company and the Shebin al-Kom Textile Company at ETUF's headquarters in downtown Cairo to demand the re-nationalization and re-operation of their stalled companies - in accordance with earlier verdicts issued from the Administrative Courts.

The courts ruled that these two companies, along with the Nile Cotton Ginning Company and the Nasr Steam Boilers Company, had been privatized and sold-off for far less than their true market value. 

Protesters have also been demanding their reinstatement, along with hundreds of other workers who had been sacked or forced to retire.

Wednesday’s crackdown comes amidst the new government’s policy of seeking to end strikes and other forms of labor unrest. It also comes amid a recent proposal by the Ministry of Manpower to ban labor strikes for a whole year.

According to Gamal Othman, a sacked worker from the Tanta Flax and Oils Company, the ETUF’s custodial staff informed the protesters in the early afternoon to move out of the halls and chambers where they were staging their sit-in so that they could clean up.

Othman added: “Shortly after that, security personnel and a bunch of hired thugs attacked us. Most of us were not physically assaulted but were threatened by tens of these thugs brandishing knives and blades.”

According to Ragab al-Sheemi, a sacked worker from the Shebin al-Kom Textile Company: “A few workers were assaulted by the ETUF staff. None very seriously, however.”

Sheemi and several other protesters confirmed that, Sameh al-Boghdadi a sacked worker from the Shebin al-Kom Company had been severely assaulted – having been punched, beaten and forcefully thrown out of the ETUF headquarters.

ETUF President Gebali al-Maraghi and the federation’s media spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

The protesters confirmed that immediately after their dispersal, ETUF representatives had filed an official complaint against them at the adjacent Azbakiya Police Station claiming they were conducting an unlawful occupation, and obstructing the federation’s work.

Othman dismissed these claims stating that this occupation was peaceful, that it was a civilized protest held indoors, which did not obstruct traffic on the streets outside or operations within the ETUF’s offices.

The protesters have also sought to file complaints at this police station against ETUF on account of the physical assaults and threats they allege they were subjected to.

Most of the demonstrators have meanwhile returned to their homes in the Nile Delta after over a month-long absence from their families.

Some have proposed relocating sit-ins to their companies' premises. Others expressed their determination to move back to ETUF and continue their occupation until their demands are met.

“The ETUF president and [Minister of Manpower] Nahed al-Ashry claim that they want to get the wheels of production back in motion, yet they are the ones who are obstructing our production and keeping us from returning to our jobs in our factories” said Sheemi.

He explained that the vast majority of factories and production lines at the Shebin al-Kom Textile Company were idle and collecting dust. “We merely need the authorities to respect and uphold judicial verdicts issued in our favor.”

Sheemi explained that the Shebin al-Kom Textile Company used to produce 60 to 70 tons of fabrics per day prior to its privatization in 2007. However the company is currently operating at a fraction of its original capacity and workforce - producing a meager two tons per day.

Workers from Shebin al-Kom have been demanding that the Textile Holding Company – which is responsible for managing this company, along with 31 others – re-operate all factories and reinstate all workers to the company. Yet the Textile Holding Company has not officially responded to these demands.

The Tanta Flax Company, which was privatized in 2005, has almost identical demands. This company is managed by the Chemical Industries Holding Company, yet has not received any responses regarding re-operation of stalled factories or reinstatement of sacked workers.

Although statements issued from the Finance Ministry indicated that the Tanta Flax Company might be up and running by next year, it made no mention of reinstating sacked workers.

The sacked workers repeatedly mentioned that the authorities in charge of these companies were unresponsive.

“ETUF and its president don’t represent Egypt’s workers," claimed Sheemi. "They only represent the interests of the ruling regime and the interests of businessmen.”

Workers from these two companies, along with hundreds of sacked workers from the Nasr Steam Boilers Company and the Nile Cotton Ginning Company, are still studying means to escalate protests.

On Saturday, workers from these companies - along with others - protested outside the Council of Ministers to demand that the newly-appointed government of Ibrahim Mehleb uphold the Administrative Court's verdicts.

*Photo by Jano Charbel

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