Four workers who claim to have been punitively relocated from their jobs have launched hunger strikes and protests on Saturday in their new workplaces in Minya (over 250 km south of Cairo). The workers, who were employed at the state-owned Misr Steel and Iron Company in Helwan, were joined by co-workers in solidarity protests at the company’s headquarters.
These four workers were relocated to the limestone mining zone of Bani Khaledb in Samalout, Minya following their involvement in protests and strikes at the massive Misr Steel and Iron Company last year.
One of these four hunger striking workers, Mourad Waheeb, told Mada Masr, “We’ve been punitively relocated here in this distant and isolated workplace by our administrative board, who have done so in an attempt to send a message to other protesting workers at the company. It’s their means of score-settling against us. We’re being punished for partaking in protests, and strikes over the past few years.”
Waheeb explained that he and his four co-workers were relocated to the company’s branch in Minya in January 2014. Since then they have been seeking to be reinstated in their original workplaces by filing a host of administrative and legal appeals, to no avail.
Waheeb added, “We are accused of instigating workers to strike, financially ruining the company, receiving illegal foreign funding, along with threatening the national economy and national security. All of these claims are baseless.”
Over the past few years, thousands of workers at this steel complex — Egypt’s largest — have been protesting against the hefty losses incurred by the administrative board of the Misr Steel and Iron Company.
Most of the company’s 11,000-strong workforce have embarked on industrial action against their administrators, claiming that these state-appointed officials have incurred losses (attributed to their negligence, mismanagement, and corruption) amounting to approximately LE1 billion (approximately $US140 million) over the past 10 years.
Due to shortages of coke fuel required for the company’s furnaces and other maintenance issues, this mammoth company is estimated to be operating at around 25 percent of its original capacity.
On their part, the Helwan Iron and Steel Company’s administrators accuse striking workers of incurring losses amounting to between LE15 million to LE18 million per day as a result of their industrial protest.
Moreover, some administrators have also accused these protesting workers of being politicized agents, specifically members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
However, protesting workers at the Misr Iron and Steel Company have dismissed these claims.
According to Waheeb, none of the workers demands have been political or politicized. “We workers have always fulfilled our obligations. We are not the cause of the company’s financial woes,” he said.
Waheeb added, “We have been protesting against the ongoing hemmoraging of our company’s finances. We’ve been demanding that our company return to 100 percent productive capacity. We’ve been demanding coke fuel, we want the company back into service, we want to produce at the same rate that the company used to produce.”
Waheeb demanded an end of corruption, mismanagement, and losses, by holding the company’s administrative board accountable for their violations.
This hunger-striking worker described the company’s administrative president, Mohamed Saad Negeida, as being “an administrative failure, who continues to incur massive losses for the company.”
In statements issued to several local media outlets on Saturday, Negeida commented that these four workers were not punitively relocated, but rather reassigned, “as part of the company’s efforts towards administrative restructuring.”
However, Waheeb replied, “All four of us reside in Cairo or Giza. That’s where our homes and families are. We haven’t been relocated here so as to improve the company’s administrative performance. This is nonsense.”
The Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) issued a brief statement on Sunday condemning the relocation of the four workers. These workers “have been punitively relocated merely for demanding their rights and those of their co-workers at the company,” the statement asserted.
EFITU demanded the immediate reinstatement of these four workers, and an end to punitive measures against protesting workers.
Meanwhile, in another statement issued by Negeida to the privately owned Youm7 news portal on Sunday, the company’s chief administrator commented that negotiations were underway with giant Russian steel company Metaprom for investments in the Misr Steel and Iron Company.
Negeida claimed that he is expecting a response to these negotiations within four weeks. He hopes Metaprom will invest up to $US400 million (around LE3 billion) in developing the Misr Iron and Steel Company over the next few years.
Waheeb concluded, “If we are arrested, assaulted, fired, succumb to illnesses as a result of our hunger strike or die because of it, then we hold Mohamed Saeed Negeida directly and personally responsible.”