NO WORKER CAN BE JAILED FOR GOING ON STRIKE! – say the Eygptian trade unions

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AN Alexandria misdemeanors court on Sunday overturned jail sentences for five workers from the Alexandria Container & Cargo Handling Company.

The court had sentenced the five workers in absentia last September to one to three years in prison for inciting a strike, in addition to fines of LE10,000 each.

AN Alexandria misdemeanors court on Sunday overturned jail sentences for five workers from the Alexandria Container & Cargo Handling Company.

The court had sentenced the five workers in absentia last September to one to three years in prison for inciting a strike, in addition to fines of LE10,000 each.

The Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress, comprised of over 271 independent labour unions, said that during the re-trial on Sunday, the court recognised that workers have the right to strike under Egyptian law, and that no worker should be imprisoned for this act.

Suzan Nada, lawyer at the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) and the coordinator of the Permanent Conference of Alexandria’s Workers, said the five workers are Ahmed Sadeq, Yousry Ma’rouf, Ashraf Mahmoud, Essam Mabrouk and Mohamed Abdel-Moneim.

Dozens protested outside the court in a show of solidarity with the workers.

Nada said the right to strike is preserved in the constitution. However she claimed the law criminalises strikes indirectly.

‘It includes some very harsh conditions,’ she said. ‘It is an unjust law,’ she insisted, adding that several political parties and unions oppose it.

Nada added that the law allows the oppression of workers who can face arbitrary transfers or salary deductions and, in some cases, arrests for striking.

According to Nada, other companies in which workers faced trouble for striking included Hi Tech whose workers were illegally dismissed only to be reinstated days after

In addition to being sentenced to imprisonment, the workers were also suspended from work and fined. Their last hearing on 7 April was postponed to 16 June.

The strike the workers were being tried for was in 2011.

Egypt’s 2003 Labour Law recognised the right to strike for the first time, although it imposed many restrictions.

According to the law, which is highly contested by labour activists and independent unions, a strike is legal only if the employer is notified ten days in advance.

Two-thirds of the industry’s union board members must also approve of the strike.

The Alexandria Container & Cargo Handling Company filed a lawsuit accusing the striking workers – and the union’s administrative board – of inciting workers to strike, wasting public funds, and disrupting work.

In March, dock workers went on strike to demand the removal of the company’s board of directors, whom they accused of corruption.

Striking workers also demanded that the docks be returned to the custodianship of the state, after having been leased to Chinese and other foreign port-services companies.

Since the January 25 Revolution, industrial action has erupted all over the country, with workers demanding better wages, bonuses, health insurance, workplace equality and proper contracts.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Council of Culture released a statement during their conference on Sunday withdrawing all confidence from Minister of Culture Alaa Abdel Aziz.

‘We are slowly toppling the minister’s legitimacy,’ said Abdel Galeel El-Sharnouby, spokesperson of the Creativity Front.

The statement also requested military assistance in protecting the Egyptian National Library and Archives.

Intellectuals and artists who are participating at the sit-in by the Ministry of Culture had issued a statement accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to steal documents from the archives, specifically those pertaining to the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood and the demarcation of Egypt’s borders.

Abdel Aziz had removed the head of the Egyptian National Library and Archives on 9 June and appointed Khaled Fahmy, a member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs who displays strong Islamist tendencies.

The statement also condemned the attacks on those participating at the sit-in, allegedly by Muslim Brotherhood supporters, on 11 June.

Intellectuals protesting against Abdel Aziz announced in the statement that they will file a lawsuit against the minister for accusing them of corruption.

They also demanded that the Supreme Council of Culture be made independent from the Shura Council and from the government, and that intellectuals be given the opportunity to run it and elect the appropriate officials.

The intellectuals in question said at the conference that they would continue protesting and striking at the ministry, joining the call for protests on 30 June.

As Egyptian artists and intellectuals continue to occupy culture ministry headquarters in Cairo’s Zamalek district, dissent against the minister and his controversial decisions has reached Egypt’s second city Alexandria.

The coastal city has witnessed several meetings by independent artists involved in the theatrical arts to discuss the cultural scene in light of the ongoing protests in Cairo.

In keeping with the ‘Brotherhoodisation’ of culture, several issues concerning Culture Minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz were discussed.

The underlying components of discussion revolved around institutional corruption of governmental spaces and palaces of the arts, mismanagement and centralisation.

The discussions provoked artists to issue a statement last Saturday, 15 June, announcing a sit-in in Alexandria’s Bayram Al-Tunsi Theatre.

Consequently, a demonstration in solidarity with the Zamalek sit-in – which has now gone on for 12 days – was organised by members of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party in front of Alexandria’s Sayed Darwish Theatre.

The demonstration, which called for the removal of the minister – who, according to protesters, aims to ‘Brotherhoodise’ culture in Egypt – joined forces with the Bayram Al-Tunsi Theatre sit-in.

According to culture activist Ali El-Adawi, tens of likeminded activists spent the night at the theatre, but hundreds were on the scene in the evening which featured several cultural performances.

On Sunday, 16 June, artists formed a committee to administer the sit-in, threatening to escalate until their demands were met.

The committees plan to organise and coordinate cultural events everyday inside and outside the ministerial buildings.

As a part of what protesting artists have dubbed ‘Festival of Dissent,’ the sit-in has been holding several artistic events, including a concert by Alexandria’s Massar Egbari – one of Egypt’s leading independent bands – on Sunday.

l Also last Sunday, the Cairo Criminal Court found five guilty of attacking the Presidential Palace and police officers during clashes on 12 January 2013.

Mahmoud Ahmed Atteya, also known as ‘Mahmoud the oppressed’, and Amr Alaa Abdel Dayem were sentenced to prison for five years and fined EGP 500. Both are fugitives.

Atteya was charged of attempting to murder a security officer by firing birdshot at him, injuring both his right eye and arm.

Antar Naguib Ghesh, Amr Ahmed Abdelhamid and Ragab Abdel Sattar Mohamed, all in custody, were sentenced to two years in prison with hard labour as well as criminal fines.

Mohamed Al-Sayed, Mohamed Abdel Hafez and Wael Abdel Hamid were found innocent by the court.

All eight prisoners were accused of attacking people surrounding the palace with guns and knives and setting three tents on fire, said Mahmoud Belal, a lawyer at the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) who was present at the time of sentencing.

The court postponed the trial of Arafa Mo’awad, who is in custody and being accused of destroying public property, to 16 September pending witness testimonies.

‘Mo’awad was accused of destroying the gates of the Presidential Palace on 2 February,’ Belal added.

Belal explained that news outlets released false information about Mo’awad driving a bulldozer into the palace, while in reality, the lawyer claimed, he was carrying a pulley as a symbol suggesting the people are capable of removing Mohamed Mursi from the presidency.

‘Mo’awad will continue to stay in prison until 16 September,’ said Belal.