A new wave of labor unrest has swept Egypt over the past two days as several thousand workers commenced industrial action. Demands include higher wages, workplace parity, the enforcement of judicial verdicts, the reinstatement of sacked employees and the payment of overdue bonuses.
Protest is most notable among workers employed in seven companies subcontracted by the state-owned Suez Canal Authority (SCA), as well as the Assiut Cement Company and two privatized textile mills: the Nile Cotton Ginning Company and the Shebin al-Kom Textile Company.
At the companies servicing the Suez Canal but not officially affiliated to the SCA, several thousand employees embarked on workplace protests on Tuesday, mostly in the cities of Ismailia and Port Said. They reportedly demanded that the seven companies become officially merged into the SCA, or that they be given parity with SCA employees in terms of bonuses, wages and benefits.
Al-Tahrir news portal reported that workers from three of the seven companies continued protesting for a second day on Wednesday. Despite being offered some concessions from SCA officials – including a two-month bonus and 85 days worth of profit-shares – workers announced an open-ended protest until demands are met. The exact number of protesting workers from the three companies has not been specified.
At Upper Egypt’s Assiut Cement Company (Cemex) the labor strike also entered its third day on Wednesday. An estimated 240 workers began striking on Monday over the non-payment of 10 percent of the company’s profit shares. According to the company administration and the Ministry of Manpower, the company cannot provide workers with this profit-sharing agreement as it is incurring losses, privately owned Youm7 newspaper reported. But workers dismissed these claims, insisting they have proof of the company’s profitability throughout 2015.
The striking cement workers also pointed out that they had only been paid one-third of the bonuses the administration had pledged.
The Assiut Cement Company was privatized in 1999 under the Mubarak regime and sold to the Mexican multinational building materials company Cemex. A string of lawsuits were filed against its sale and, between 2011-2014, the Administrative Court investigated whether or not it was sold for less than its market value. In April 2014, however, then-interim President Adly Mansour’s Presidential Decree 32/2014 stripped workers of the right to appeal against privatization contracts signed between state entities and investors.
This left workers at the company in a state of legal limbo. They now say they may escalate their strike into a hunger strike if their demands are not heeded.
At the Shebin al-Kom Textile Company, which was privatized and then had its privatization contract nullified by the Administrative Court in September 2011, hundreds of workers also embarked on a protest march and rally on Tuesday. Around 300 sacked workers from the company, located in the Nile Delta governorate of Monufiya, converged on governorate headquarters to demand that they be reinstated and that the textile mill start operating in its original capacity.
“We are no longer under the management of the Indonesian investors who purchased this company during Mubarak’s rule,” sacked worker Ragab al-Shimy told Mada Masr, citing Administrative Court verdicts. “By court order, we are now under the management of Holding Company for Textile Industries, and we should be reinstated as employees of the Public Works Sector.”
Nonetheless, this company has also remained in a state of limbo. “During these four years, the company has been operating at less than 50 percent of its original capacity, with less than half of its original workforce,” Shimy said.
He added that a delegation of sacked workers met with governorate officials on Tuesday to demand parity with the workers of the Tanta Flax and Oils Company, who are in the process of being reinstated to their jobs. “We ask governorate authorities and the Holding Company for Textile Industries to respect and uphold judicial verdicts issued in September 2011 and 2013, return this company to the public sector, and reinstate all sacked workers, including those punitively sacked or forced into early retirement,” Shimy said.
Late last month, state authorities tentatively agreed to reinstate around 200 sacked workers at the Tanta Flax and Oils Company in the Nile Delta governorate of Gharbiya, and to re-operate the stalled company. This state-led action has led workers in other companies that had their privatization contracts nullified by court orders to demand parity with Tanta Flax workers. These include the Shebin al-Kom Textile Company, Nasr Steam Boilers Company, the Omar Effendy Department Stores, Nile Cotton Ginning Company, and the Simo Paper Production Company.
At the Nile Cotton Ginning Company, hundreds of workers from various branches of began to organize early this week for a mass protest outside Cabinet headquarters on Wednesday. The planned protest was suspended, however, as workers at the cotton ginning company reportedly received a pledge from the Ministry of Manpower that their demands for reinstatement and re-operation would be met officially on December 20 by the minister and by officials from the Holding Company for Textile Industries.