Industrial action roundup: Protesters demand employment, as transport strike organizers remain in detention

Egyptians from various labor sectors across Egypt have mobilized in the past few days to pursue improvements in labor conditions and gainful employment in accord with previous government decrees, including protests organized by tree planters outside the Agriculture Ministry in Giza, demonstrations by postgraduates demanding employment opportunities outside the Cabinet’s headquarters in Cairo and the the continued detention of six Cairo Public Transport Authority workers who had organized a strike that was suppressed by the government.

Tree planters

Dozens of tree planters who had been hired by the Agriculture Ministry on temporary contracts protested outside the ministry’s headquarters in the Dokki district of Giza on Tuesday, demanding full-time contracted employment and livable monthly wages.

Camelia Saeed, a tree planter from the Gharbiya Governorate who traveled by bus to Giza with her coworkers, told Mada Masr that she and the other protesters are only paid LE 40 per month, just over $US 4.

“That is all we get paid per month. That is our total wage. There are no bonuses. Some of us have been employed on part-time contracts for over a decade with the ministry, with this same monthly wage,” Saeed said.

The Agriculture Ministry employs around 2,000 tree-planters on temporary contracts in at least six different governorates. Over the past few years, many of these precarious laborers have been promised full-time contracts and a monthly wage of LE 500, which is still less than half the national minimum wage of LE 1,200 per month.

With her current salary, Saeed is unable to pay for her basic needs. “I am 50 years old, but my family still has to support me. I cannot provide for myself, even with LE 500 per month, let alone LE 40, which is a joke,” she said.

Similar protests occurred in March, with temporary laborers calling for many of the same demands. According to Saeed however, the history of the labor struggle has a longer trajectory that has been met with continued intransigence.

“This is not the first time we’ve protested outside the ministry to demand full-time contracts and realistic wages and bonuses. I have protested several times outside the ministry’s gates over the past three years, to no avail,” she said. “Like the host of ministers who have come and gone over the years, since the 2011 revolution, [Agriculture Minister] Essam Fayed doesn’t do anything about our demands. It’s like playing the same old broken record, where they promise to grant us full-time contracts and yet do nothing about it.”

Photos and videos documenting Tuesday’s protest show dozens of temporary laborers sitting on the road outside the ministry, with some partially blocking traffic around the building.

Ministry officials and delegates representing groups of tree planters from different governorates reportedly were in negotiations until late Tuesday evening. However, the results have yet to be announced.

Postgraduate protesters

Between 200 and 300 postgraduates from across Egypt descended upon the Cabinet’s headquarters in downtown Cairo on Tuesday to protest for employment opportunities with the state.

The gathered protesters chanted and carried signs with slogans such as, “Postgraduates are unemployed and on the sidewalk,” “Egypt’s postgraduates are jobless” and “Employ us!”

The protesters were demanding that the Egyptian state uphold a 2002 Cabinet decree that allocated administrative posts in the government to public university postgraduates. Thousands of postgraduates have demonstrated to enforce the decree since it was issued, subsequently succeeding in landing government jobs but not  guaranteeing employment for future graduating classes.

Mahmoud Abu Zeid, 25, participated in Tuesday’s protest outside the Cabinet. Afterward, he told Mada Masr that the protesters “want to land jobs in the state’s administrative authorities. We want to help the state with our skills, qualifications and expertise, wherever our field of expertise is required.”

Abu Zeid is a Kafr al-Sheikh Governorate resident and was awarded a Master’s degree in law in 2015. Exasperated, he questioned why postgraduates must protest every year to ensure the state upholds its own decree regarding employment.

Delegates representing postgraduates met with the assistant to the Prime Minister Sherif Ismail’s chief of staff, according to Abu Zeid.

“We were told that our demands are being examined, and that we are listed to be employed. As for where or when we will actually be employed? We have not yet been informed,” he said.

The young unemployed lawyer said he had been arrested while on his way to a rally outside the Cabinet’s headquarters in November 2015, subsequently being held in detention for four days in the Qasr al-Nil Police Station. Three other postgraduate protesters were arrested the following month, similarly demanding government employment.

“However, we’ve had no trouble from police forces today” Abu Zeid said, expressing a sense of relief.

Continued detention of six public transport strike leaders

Sixteen political parties and rights groups signed and jointly issued a statement on Tuesday, demanding the release of six Cairo Public Transport Authority (PTA) bus drivers and workers, whom police arrested from their homes on Friday, a day before a planned strike.

The six workers were the principal organizers of a Saturday PTA strike that would have coincided with the first day of the new academic year.

However, the planned PTA strike was reportedly obstructed, according to several local media outlets, by the arrest of the six strike leaders and the noticeable presence of police forces and officers who had been deployed to the PTA’s many garages across Cairo and who pressured workers not to strike.

On Sunday, the independent Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS) announced that it had filed a complaint with the office of the general prosecutor, demanding that authorities disclose the whereabouts of the six jailed PTA workers and inquiring into the charges being leveled against the labor organizers.

The CTUWS is also calling on the Interior Ministry and the state-appointed National Council for Human Rights to identify the police station or detention center where the six PTA workers are being held.

Hundreds of Cairo’s PTA workers have been threatening to strike to further their demands that include that the PTA be under the auspices of the Transport Ministry rather than local governorates, increases in production bonuses by up to 17 percent of current rates and wage parity with Alexandria’s Public Transport Authority.

The public transport sector has witnessed repeated strikes over the last five years around the same demands, leading to continual negotiations between striking workers and the Transport Authority.


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