Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Military police deployed to intimidate shipyard workers at sit-in protest

Mada Masr
Nile Cotton, Alexandria Shipyard workers sit in against unpaid wages, state failures

Monday, May 23, 2016

Jano Charbel 

For the second consecutive day, hundreds of workers from two state-owned companies have been challenging the restrictive provisions of Egypt’s protest law by conducting overnight sit-ins to protest against the state’s labor policies.

Although such open-ended sit-ins are banned by the protest law, workers from the Nile Cotton Ginning Company and the Alexandria Shipyard Company have been sitting in outside Parliament, the Ministry of Public Sector Works and at the Port of Alexandria.

The sit-ins were launched against what workers claim is the state’s failure to uphold its own laws and court verdicts.

Military police units have been deployed to the Port of Alexandria in response to the hundreds-strong sit-in held by workers from the Alexandria Shipyard Company, the privately owned Al-Watan newspaper reported on Monday. A senior navy general was also dispatched to try to persuade the workers to end the protests, according to the privately owned Tahrir News.

The shipyard workers have sitting in since Sunday to protest low wages, which fall below the national monthly minimum wage of LE1,200 that was established for public sector workers at the beginning of 2014. They’re also protesting against the non-payment of their annual pre-Ramadan bonuses, and demanding the dismissal of the company’s chief manager.

Representatives from the Armed Forces began attempting to negotiate a settlement with the protesting shipyard workers on Monday, said Tahrir News, but the protesters have reportedly threatened to escalate by going on strike until their demands are met.

Also since Sunday, dozens of workers from the Nile Cotton Ginning Company have been demonstrating in downtown Cairo outside the Parliament building and Cabinet headquarters. They reportedly haven’t been paid for seven months.

On Monday, the workers relocated their sit-in to the newly established Ministry of Public Sector Works in the hopes of receiving a pledge from the state to pay their wages and reopen their factories.

Workers from several branches of the Nile Cotton Ginning Company have held a host of industrial actions over the past four years against the failure to implement of a 2011 Administrative Court verdict that nullified the privatization of their company, and that ordered the company to reopen under state administration.

The court had ruled against Nile Cotton’s privatization in 2011 on the basis that the company was sold for far less than its real market value, and in violation of privatization regulations. The Nile Cotton Ginning Company was privatized in 1997 and sold as a share-holding company registered on the Egyptian Stock Exchange.

In September 2013, the Supreme Administrative Court upheld the 2011 verdict that nullified the sale. A subsequent decree from the prime minister upheld both the 2011 and 2013 court verdicts, and called for the state to reopen the Nile Cotton Ginning Company’s branches under its auspices.

The company’s workers claim that the non-implementation of these rulings is the principle cause for their repeated protests.

The Nile Cotton Ginning Company remains in a legal state of limbo, and many of its regional branches and production lines have come to a complete standstill. With production grinding to a halt, the company’s administrators have been unable to pay their workers.

Across Egypt, stalled companies and faltering industries have translated into the non-payment of wages for thousands of workers. In turn, this has led to a nationwide spike in industrial actions and labor unrest.

There were 493 labor protests from January to April 2016 alone, according to the latest figures issued by the independent nongovernmental organization Democracy Meter. This rate currently represents an average of six industrial actions per day, and a 25 percent increase in labor unrest compared to the same period last year.

A total of 1,117 strikes and other industrial actions were reported across Egypt in 2015, according to Democracy Meter, amounting to an average of three labor protests per day.

*Photo courtesy of Tahrir News

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