Egyptian Strike Wave

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A STRIKE wave is continuing in Egypt as workers battle the El-Sisi regime, determined to improve their wages and conditions.

Protests by workers at government-run factories are demanding the release of a 10 per cent bonus that the Finance Ministry decided to disburse only to state agencies rather than public factories and businesses.

The most notable strikes are being staged by employees at Misr Spinning and Weaving Company, Egypt’s largest public sector textile company in Mahallah city north of Cairo and other provinces. Mahallah workers continued to strike on Wednesday to demand their inclusion in this year’s social bonus, despite the expiry of a 48-hour ultimatum by the labour minister.

The strike in the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company was in its eighth day, as workers demand a 10 per cent social bonus promised by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in September to be paid retroactively starting in July. The 10 per cent bonus is LE50 a month for each Mahallah worker.

The social bonus seems to have been lost in translation as complex, at times conflicting laws were issued this year. According to a Facebook post by labour rights advocates The Revolutionary Socialists group late on Wednesday, the management has suspended seven workers who will be investigated for their role in encouraging the strike.

They say the factory is losing EGP 4 million a day because of halted production. After meetings with local officials, Labour Minister Gamal Sorour said last Monday evening workers must resume production immediately so that within 48 hours Prime Minister Sherif Ismail would reach a ‘suitable agreement for them’, warning that ‘legal measures will be taken against any attempts to obstruct work’.

Workers at the company were outraged at his statement, saying that he is imposing a ‘condition’ instead of resolving the crisis. On Tuesday, divisions had widened between striking workers and heads of departments in the company, as the latter tried to resume production at the company’s gas and power stations but failed to do so.

In September, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi issued a decree to pay state employees a social bonus of 10 per cent of their basic salaries, starting from July salaries. The decree excludes the six million employees who are subject to the social services law. The regulations and specifications of the decree were issued by the ministry of finance the same week, excluding public sector workers from the bonus.

‘This is the first time that we have been excluded from the social bonus,’ said Faisal Laqousha, a worker at the factory. ‘This bonus is different from the annual 7 per cent bonus, but we receive it annually and its rate varies from year to year,’ he added. The government cancelled the public sector workers’ entitlement to the social bonus, commissioner-general at the company, Ibrahim Bedair, said. He did not specify when the decision was made.

The workers sent the management an ultimatum earlier this month, saying that they would refuse to accept their salaries if the 10 percent social bonus was not included. The strike began with the 3,000 clothing workers last Tuesday but more than 10,000 other workers joined the strike in the latter two days, Kamal El-Fayoumi, former worker at the factory and leading labour activist, revealed last Thursday.

Mahallah workers began a wave of strikes in 2006, and again in 2008, in one of the most significant challenges to the Hosni Mubarak regime before the 2011 revolution. Workers at the industrial city of Mahallah have a long history of labour struggles. In 2008, they had planned a strike which pro-democracy activists supported through online campaigns to protest against the increased cost of living and low wages.

Even though the strike never took place, calls for solidarity led to street clashes with police and the birth of the April 6 Youth Movement, one of the groups that electrified the January 2011 uprising. The current strike comes amid heightened urban consumer inflation which jumped to 9.2 per cent in September, according to the official statistics agency CAPMAS.

Meanwhile, workers at the Port Said Engineering Works Company, affiliated with the Suez Canal Authority, staged a sit-in at the company’s headquarters on Wednesday at Port Fouad to also demand the annual 10 per cent bonus decided by a presidential decree issued in September 2015 to state employees.

The decree excluded employees who are subject to the new Civil Service Law. The protesting workers said the Suez Canal Authority decided that the companies affiliated to the authority are not included in the bonus. The protesters called for other rights related to pensions and health and housing services.

They said housing units built for company employees have been finished for seven years but they have not been handed over to them. Adel al-Ghadban, adviser to president of the Suez Canal Authority, visited the company in an attempt to negotiate with workers but the workers insisted on their demands.

The Port Said Engineering Works Company is one of seven other companies affiliated to the Suez Canal Authority. Workers at the seven companies are governed by financial regulations other than the regulations applied to workers of the authority.

• The detention of an Egyptian freelance photographer for more than 800 days without trial, three months beyond the legal custody limit, is an embodiment of the Egyptian government’s hostility towards journalists, Britain’s Independent newspaper said on Wednesday.

Mahmoud (Shawkan) Abu Zeid is expecting to go on trial on December 12 after more than 800 days in detention, a stretch that The Independent describes as marked with ‘appalling conditions’. He was arrested in 2013 following the dispersal of a major sit-in in Rabaa al-Adaweya Square protesting against the ousting of former President Mohamed Mursi by the El-Sisi-led military.

He is facing charges of ‘terrorising citizens’ and the ‘attempted murder of police officers’. The newspaper described Shawkan’s prolonged detention as ‘the only slightly unusual element … In the wider context of Sisi’s war on press freedom’. The Independent said the presidency’s use of occasional pardons for detainees is a ‘corrective on heavy-handed sentencing’ and is indicative that justice in Egypt is ‘a secondary consideration (in pursuing) the state’s agenda’.