New PM pledges little to calm labor unrest
Image from a previous Mahalla strike - Courtesy: Mohamed al-Saeed
 

Seeking to quell months of labor protests over pay and corruption allegations, newly appointed Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb visited the country’s largest textile company in the city of Mahalla on Wednesday, promising workers they would receive their overdue bonuses within the week.

Mehleb also said the state would provide the 22,000 workers employed at Misr Spinning and Weaving Company with the new minimum wage. However, he also denounced their strikes and called for “a minimum level of productivity.”

Aside from reiterating plans to link productivity to pay, Mehleb promised no drastic changes.  Filled with nationalistic rhetoric, his speech promised there would be “no room for privatization.”

“The human element is more important than machines in these factories, and we’re going to train Egyptian workers until they’re no less than their Korean peers,” the prime minister claimed. 

The prime minister visited Mahalla in the Nile Delta Governorate of Gharbiya along with the ministers of planning, manpower, endowments and local and administrative development. The delegation was scheduled to meet with representatives of 22 of textiles factories to discuss problems facing this troubled industry and efforts to combat them, privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.

During his address on Wednesday, Mehleb also said the government intended to redesign the state budget, before saying, “there’s nothing we can offer workers, the budget is weighed down by debts and subsidies which take up over half of the budget.”

Groups of workers planned protests to coincide with the state visit. Representatives of an independent labor union at the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company protested outside the company’s gates after being denied an audience with the prime minister, who met with representatives of the state-controlled local union committee.

Another 500 workers from the Nile Company for Transportation protested in front of the textile company’s headquarters to demand the removal of the Gharbiya governor and the head of Nile Company for failing to implement the new minimum wage, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.

The government had promised a LE1,200 minimum wage for public sector workers by the end of January. Yet over 2 million public sector workers and employees were excluded from the raise.

However, thousands of workers at the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company also welcomed Mehleb at the doors of their firm, while chanting their demands for the financial and administrative restructuring of the company. They also demanded the prime minister inject fresh investments and raw materials into the public textile industry, liberal party newspaper Al-Wafd reported.

The interim prime minister asked workers to hold back on making allegations of corruption within the industry: “We have to work on building Egypt first, we’re facing a lot of issues and we have a long road ahead of us.”

Misr Spinning and Weaving Company employees along with 12 other public sector textile companies across the country had launched a strike in February, demanding the resignation of Fouad Abdel Aleem — chief of the Textile Holding Company, which oversees 32 state-owned textile companies —  and accusing him of mismanagement and corruption. 

The Mahalla company has reportedly incurred hundreds of millions of pounds worth of losses under Abdel Aleem’s management, while the public sector textile industry, as a whole, has incurred several billion pounds of losses over the past 10 years.

Abdel Aleem’s resignation has been a top demand of nearly 45,000 striking workers.

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