Sunday, January 31, 2016

Strikes & labor protests hit state-owned companies

Mada Masr 

Strikes and labor protests hit state-owned companies  

Companies affected include petroleum and coke-fuel plants, gas billing services, and Nile cruise ships

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Jano Charbel 

Thousands of workers at state-owned companies have been embarking on strikes and other industrial actions this week in protest at low wages and bonuses, and in demand of parity with their co-workers in other company branches.

Among those taking part in industrial actions are Nile dockworkers in Aswan, employees of the Petrotrade Company in several governorates, petroleum workers in Suez, and workers at the Nasr Coke Company in Cairo.

Petroleum workers demand contractual agreement

As of Monday, thousands of employees of Petrotrade – a state-owned petroleum services and billing company – have been on strike for the past 25 days. Thousands of striking employees of Petrotrade have been demanding the implementation of a company-wide contractual agreement established since 2011 – to which few are apparently entitled.

Strikes among Petrotrade employees broke out in Cairo nearly five years ago, and have spilled-over to other company branches nationwide.

Employees have been demanding the application of the 2011 employment contract – which would help raise their salaries, bonuses, and benefits – along with the reinstatement of 25 sacked workers/unionists, and the accountability of administrators, who they claim are involved in acts of corruption.

Strike coordinator, Karim Reda, told Mada Masr that of the company’s 56 branches nationwide, around 52 are on strike. Reda added that the company employs around 18,000 workers across the country – of which approximately 16,000 are on strike.

Reda stated that “only a couple of branches in Cairo and in North Sinai are not partaking in this strike.”

According to company administrators, this nearly month-long strike has resulted in losses for Petrotrade amounting to over LE80 million.

However, Reda explained that striking workers can compensate Petrotrade for these losses. “We can collect overdue bills at a later point in time, when our demands are met. But we are also willing to carry on with our strikes for another week, month, or however long it takes.”

According to Reda: “Company administrators claim that our strikes are being led by the Muslim Brotherhood and April 6th Youth Movement. They claim that opposition political forces are instigating these industrial actions, but we are not politicized. We are just ordinary employees with professional demands.”

Indeed, photos posted on the website of the privately-owned Al-Wafd news portal – from several Petrotrade branches – even reveal workers carrying posters of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and respectfully asking for his intervention.

Reda added that Petrotrade employees are demanding parity with other employees and administrators who are employed under the work contracts of 2011. “For the past five years, the company’s administration keep dragging its feet regarding the implementation of the 2011 employment contracts. Only a few chief administrators and allied employees who tow the line are currently employed according to the collective agreement of 2011.

Reda reported that Petrotrade administrators are involved in corruption and the misappropriation of the company’s funds. “Administrators decree the disbursement of large salaries, and periodic bonuses amongst themselves; and likewise for those employees who are their obedient followers.”

The strike coordinator added that administrators have filed complaints at local police stations against some 150 striking employees nationwide – citing their obstruction of official public sector work.

Reda added that a complaint has been filed against him at al-Daher Police Station in Cairo.

Nile and Suez Canal workers seek parity, contractual changes

Meanwhile, on Monday, nearly 100 maintenance and dockworkers in the district of Armant – in the southernmost governorate of Aswan – commenced a strike at the Canal Company for Nile Services and Maintenance Works.

The privately-owned Youm7 news portal reported that these workers are demanding parity with their co-workers in the Suez Canal Authority (which oversees the Canal Company for Nile Services) in terms of their wages, benefits, bonuses and allowances.

The strike in Armant’s Nile docks has reportedly halted all repairs and maintenance work on cruise boats, and floating hotels. These striking workers are also reported to have filed an official complaint at the Armant Police Station, demanding an audience with the administrators of the Suez Canal Authority.

Likewise, last month several hundred workers employed at seven subsidiary maritime companies of the Suez Canal Authority embarked on protests and partial strikes – demanding parity with their co-workers who are directly employed by this state-owned maritime transport authority.

These seven subsidiary companies (involved in maintenance, transport, roping, etc.) are administratively – but not financially – managed by this state authority.

These hundreds of workers along the Suez Canal have largely suspended their industrial actions after receiving official pledges that their demands would be heeded.

Elsewhere, around 100 workers at the Suez Petroleum Production Company reportedly protested outside their company’s headquarters, demanding contractual changes.

The private Al-Masry Al-Youm portal reported that these workers are demanding that the duration of their service at the Suez Petroleum Production Company be calculated from the dates upon which they started their employment – not from the dates of the signing of new contracts.

Workers from this state-owned company told Al-Masry Al-Youm that their wages and bonuses would negatively be affected if the duration of their employment – under their initial contracts – are not included as part of their total number of years of service.

Coke workers suspect strike action

Finally, workers at the Nasr Coke Company – for the production of coke/coal fuel – in Cairo’s south-eastern industrial district of Tibeen, suspended their strike action on Monday.

After six days of strike action, approximately 2,300 workers at the Nasr Coke Company reportedly called-off their work stoppage for a duration of one week so as to allow state authorities an opportunity to meet their demands.

According to the privately-owned Al-Watan news portal, the demands include: payment of overdue profit-shares; the detailed publication of the company’s financial accounts for the year 2015; the accountability of company officials for any acts of corruption or mismanagement, along with the dismissal of the chief of the Holding Company for Mining and Mineral Industries – which oversees the Nasr Coke Company.

The coke workers are reported to have suspended their strike action after having met with representatives from the Office of the Presidency, and from the Armed Forces, who pledged to look into their demands.

The coke industry is of great importance to other state-owned companies – such as the mammoth Egyptian Steel and Iron Company, and other steel mills, located in the adjacent district of Helwan – which use this coke to fuel their furnaces.

*Photo by Jano Charbel

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