EGYPT’S Public Transport Authority workers on Saturday announced the beginning of an open-ended sit-in outside cabinet headquarters on Cairo’s Qasr al-Ainy Street, following a ten-day strike.
The workers demand higher salaries and improved service for citizens.
The workers closed Qasr al-Ainy Street with barricades and prevented cars from passing.
They formed three committees to stand at the entrances of the sit-in, and stressed that they would remain until the cabinet responded to their demands.
The workers demanded the dismissal of the Minister of Manpower and Immigration Ahmed al-Borai for refusing to negotiate before they resume work.
Driver Khaled Abdel Rahman called for the dismissal of Borai for offending workers, stressing that they are ready to extend their strike for a year if the cabinet continues ignoring their demands.
Bus conductor Ashraf Badr said the cabinet must bear the consequences of the strike as long as it does not respond, saying that public transport workers in Alexandria have expressed solidarity with striking workers in Cairo.
One of the strikers, Fouad Rashad, said that blocking Qasr al-Ainy Street sends a message to the prime minister for cancelling his meeting with workers and authorising minister Borai to negotiate with them instead.
Meanwhile, workers of the Alexandria Container and Cargo Handling Company have suspended work at Al-Dekheila Port on the Mediterranean.
On Saturday afternoon, some 450 workers, at the public enterprise walked off the job on Wharf 96.
Workers said they were walking out because promises to respond to demands they raised in April had not been kept.
Part of the workforce had commenced a sit-in, while eleven had embarked on a hunger strike.
Workers’ anger increased after a general assembly to discuss their demands on Saturday failed to take place.
Most of the demands concern winning back rights workers enjoyed until the mid-1990s.
The main demand of the workers is an increase in their share of annual profits to 20 per cent, as it was in 1994, from ten per cent as it is now.
‘Until 1994, the workers’ share of profits was 20 per cent. Then the administration decreased it to 15 per cent, and later to ten per cent, the minimum according to the law,’ said Ahmed Sadek, president of the independent union formed at the company after the January 25 Revolution.
‘The president of the holding company told us after our first protest in April that our demands are legitimate and would be fulfilled, but nothing concrete has come since.
According to the law, workers take part of the profit as direct payment and the remaining part goes to other items, equally important for the workers, like family healthcare, supplementary pension, end of service remuneration, and other services like housing.
The workers’ second demand concerns the payment of what they call an incentive bonus that used to be paid to best performers, ten per cent of the workers each year, up until 1995.
The workers also require that years of working by temporary contract before recruitment be added to the overall working years.
‘Some workers worked for 11 years with contracts, and in many cases under unfair contracts,’ says Sadek.
Sadek added that workers are determined to regain these rights, whether the general assembly meets its quorum or not, though the workers haven’t decided on the next step in their struggle.
In a separate pay dispute, doctors in Asyut, Upper Egypt, announced that they would go on strike starting on Sunday in protest for not receiving a minimum wage.
Mohamed Helmy, an obstetrician and member of the Doctors Coalition in Asyut, said all young doctors had had a meeting at which they agreed on a complete strike.
Doctors in many departments were set to take part in the strike, including emergency doctors.
‘We will go on this strike because doctors lost their dignity,’ Helmy said on Saturday. ‘The strike will last until our demands are met. We are demanding a minimum wage like that for policemen, bankers and judges, as well as a timeline to implement it.’
A fortnight ago, thousands of government doctors across different parts of Egypt went on strike to demand better wages and work conditions.
Meanwhile, recognition has been achieved for a newly formed dockers’ union in Egypt following a four-day strike by workers.
ITF-affiliated DPW, at Sukhna-Suez city was established just two months ago.
One thousand, three hundred workers at Sukhna port began go-slow action after the local management of global network terminal (GNT) operator Dubai Ports World (DPW) failed to deal with all their demands over wage structures, hardship allowances and union recognition within a reasonable timeframe.
The situation escalated after 48 hours when management called in the army to force all workers from the port. All nine members of the union board were detained for several hours during this process.
Local DPW management met with the union and asked it to sign papers that would require members to return to work and make a commitment not to stage any further industrial action in the future.
Union representatives declined to sign the papers and the go-slow action continued.
After a further 48-hour period, following pressure from workers, unions and the ITF, management met with the union again and an agreement was reached.
This agreement stipulated that workers would return to work on the condition that all demands from the union would be discussed and handled within a 15-day period and that the DPW, Sukhna-Suez city union would be recognised.
ITF Dockers’ section secretary, Frank Leys, said: ‘It is a huge achievement for this new union to be recognised. Building up active unions in GNT ports in Egypt and the rest of the Arab World region is a crucial part of the GNT campaign to raise standards for dockers all over the world.
‘Keeping lines of negotiation open with the local and worldwide management of these global companies is vital to bringing about real change for workers on the ground through dialogue where possible, through action where needed.’
Workers last week returned to work at full capacity and negotiations between the union and DPW management are ongoing.
• Finance Minister Hazem al-Beblawy said on Saturday that a delegation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will visit Egypt soon to discuss several issues, including future borrowing
IMF officials proposed to amend the conditions tied to Egypt’s request to borrow US$3 billion in June on the sidelines of annual IMF and World Bank meetings in Washington, DC, but al-Beblawy rejected the new terms.
Al-Beblawy said that if the Egyptian government agrees to take out a loan from the IMF, it will do so under previously agreed-upon conditions.
According to the new proposal, Egypt would take a loan of US$3 billion with a 1.5 per cent interest rate. The loan would then be paid off over a span of 39 months.
The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) previously refused to borrow from the IMF, with the government saying it will finance its budget deficit, which currently stands at LE134 billion for the fiscal year 2011/2012, with local Arab funds.