Helwan steel workers continue renewed strike action for second day

Over 11,000 workers at the state-owned Egyptian Iron and Steel Company in the south Cairo area of Helwan resumed strikes and sit-in protests for the second consecutive day on Sunday. While this mammoth company is the country’s largest steel complex, it continues to suffer from a lack of fuel and a significantly decreased rate of production – all the while while incurring very hefty financial losses.

Staging sit-ins and partial strikes since November, workers at the company accuse administration of corruption, neglect and mismanagement. Workers claim that their administration has incurred losses amounting to around LE1 billion over the past 10 years.

Firm administrators meanwhile accuse the workers of incurring between LE15 million to LE18 million in losses per day as a result of industrial action. Some administrators have also accused the protesting workers of being politicized agents – particularly members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

However, protesting workers at the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company dismissed these claims.

In a coordinated effort to distance themselves from politics and the claims of politicization, these workers even called off industrial action between November 26-30 so as to clearly dissociate themselves from the Islamist protest actions dubbed the “Uprising of Islamist Youth,” which took place on November 28.

Suspension of industrial action was originally slated for November 27 and 28. However, this suspension was extended – pending negotiations with company administration – until December 5.

Industrial action resumed at the company on Saturday, December 6.

According to worker Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud: “Our demands pertain only to our rights as workers, and to the wellbeing of our company. All we are asking for is that state officials come to our assistance so that we may get our company back on its feet.”

Topping the workers’ demands is the dismissal of the administration’s chief executive, Mohamed Saeed Negeida. Workers have also recently been calling for the dismissal of the chief executive of the Holding Company for Steel Industries (which oversees the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company), Zaki Bassiouni.

Protesting workers are also demanding that state auditors and prosecutors conduct investigations into the company’s finances, losses and claims of corruption.

Further demands include that the Holding Company for Steel Industries, and other state authorities, provide sufficient supplies of coke fuel to power the four furnaces at the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company.

Only one furnace is currently operating at the firm. Moreover, this single furnace is reported to be operating at around just 25 percent of its original capacity.

Workers are also demanding payment of overdue bonuses amounting to at least 12 months’ worth of their wages; and the reinstatement of all workers punitively sacked or relocated for engaging in industrial action.

“We used to be the backbone of Egypt’s steel and industrial production. Now our company is grinding to a standstill due to the failed policies of the administration,” said Abdel Maqsoud.

“Our company has been suffering from hemorrhaging for the past decade,” he added. “Egypt is losing massive sums of money from its public funds. This is a national loss and we need to end this debacle immediately.”

Abdel Maqsoud and his fellow workers insisted that they would press ahead with their strikes until state authorities move to resolve the company’s myriad problems.

In a meeting with a workers’ delegation from the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company last month, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb had announced that he and his Cabinet would move to resolve the company’s problems by the beginning of December. This has not yet happened, though.  

“The company’s administration merely wants us to end our protests, while the governmental authorities keep dragging their feet,” Abdel Maqsoud claimed.

State-owned newspaper Al-Akhbar reported on Sunday that negotiations with protesting workers had failed as they rejected offers from their company’s administration for the payment of nine months’ worth of bonuses – as opposed to the 12-month minimum demanded.

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