21 striking IFFCO workers acquitted by Suez appeals court

Twenty one workers from the privately owned IFFCO Oils Company were acquitted of “instigating strike action” and “obstructing production” by the Suez Criminal Appeals Court on Thursday.

The workers initially stood trial before the Suez Criminal Court in January, and were acquitted on January 29. However, district prosecutors appealed against the decision before the local criminal appeals court.

Administrators from the IFFCO Oils Company, based in Attaqa, Suez, filed complaints against the workers after they took part in strike action in December and January. Police were deployed to the company headquarters on January 2 and 3, where they forcefully dispersed the strike.

Workers launched the sit-in to demand the augmentation of their wages in line with increasing inflation rates, and the payment of overdue bonuses.

This company is a subsidiary of the UAE-based IFFCO Group owned by the Allana family, which was listed among the top five wealthiest Indian families in the Gulf Cooperation Council in 2016.

A total of 27 workers, including those who stood trial, have been barred from entering the company since the strike was broken up. This includes all nine members of the local labor union committee.

Ahmed Kamal, the deputy secretary-general of the union told Mada Masr: “This is a major victory for us. This second acquittal proves beyond a doubt that we didn’t commit any illegal actions.”

Article 15 of the Egyptian Constitution stipulates and safeguards the right to peaceful strike.

Kamal also pointed out, however, that despite the acquittal none of the 27 sacked workers and unionists have been reinstated in their jobs.

According to Ahmed Bakr, the secretary general of IFFCO’s local union committee, around 200 workers — many of whom were briefly arrested during the sit-in dispersal in January — were prevented from entering company grounds or returning to their jobs until they signed an agreement with administrators pledging to refrain from pursuing industrial action again.

According to Kamal five workers were also forced to sign undated letters of resignation, “agreeing to the condition of being immediately fired if they protest or strike again. This is done to intimidate our co-workers into giving up their most basic rights.”

The sacked workers initiated a boycott campaign against IFFCO’s products in January to protest against the break-up of the strike and subsequent trial. It was organized in conjunction with local labor organizations, while social rights activists have been circulating petitions for the reinstatement of IFFCO’s sacked employees.

Kamal told Mada Masr: “We are also coordinating with international labor unions and federation to have them join us in our boycott campaign, or at least to raise awareness regarding the violation of our rights, of our co-workers at the company.”

Recent years have seen a crackdown on industrial action in Egypt’s public and private sector, and the state has increasingly turned to the deployment of security forces to arrest workers and impose exceptional legal measures to punish those detained.

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