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Journalists protest mass lay-offs, demand syndicate take action
Journalists demonstrate for job security at the syndicate on Sunday, May 17

At least 425 journalists and media staffers have lost their jobs since the beginning of the year, and they’ve decided to protest against what they lambast as the “punitive measures” taken by their former employers.

On Sunday, May 17, a small protest was held outside the Journalists Syndicate in Cairo to demand the reinstatement of these hundreds of journalists. Partial strikes and solidarity strikes are also reportedly being planned among media workers this coming week.  

The Association of Laid-Off Journalists has recently been formed out of the ranks of these disgruntled and jobless reporters. Just a few weeks old, this association held its first press conference — alongside a host of other employees recently dismissed from their jobs — on May 12.

At the presser, the association presented figures on the number of media staffers fired from their jobs since the beginning of 2015. The association claims a total of 160 people have been “punitively fired” from the state-owned Al-Ahram Media Company, 134 from the privately owned Youm7 Media Company, 67 from the privately owned news portal Dot Misr, 30 from the privately owned Al-Dostour News, 18 from the privately owned Shorouk News, four from the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm Media Company and 12 from the privately owned ‘Agel News website.

“This month, we did not celebrate Labor Day or World Press Freedom Day, as there is no cause for celebration,” said Wael Abdel Aziz, a journalist who was fired from Youm7 and went on to co-found the association. Speaking at the small protest rally outside the Journalists Syndicate on Sunday, he added, “This is our first protest stand. More will follow.”

The journalists would continue to escalate their protest actions in order to realize of their four top demands, Abdel Aziz claimed.

These demands include the reinstatement of punitively sacked workers and the payments of their overdue salaries, or severance pay; for media corporations to present the Journalists Syndicate with lists of their full-time staffers who don’t have contracts, which the syndicate is then to monitor and keep track of; for the Journalists Syndicate to support the employment rights of its members and non-member journalists alike; and for state intervention to halt the mass lay-offs.

“Journalists are supposed to raise awareness regarding labor violations and employment rights. However, we are now among the employees confronted with such violations,” Abdel Aziz continued.

Abdel Aziz claimed that over the past four months, these hundreds of media staffers were laid off due to their independent or critical journalistic stances.

But according to several of these journalists, their letters of dismissal did not state that they were fired due to their reporting practices — in fact, these dismissal letters disclosed very little.

Other journalists say this wave of sackings is more an issue of media corporations’ poor administrative skills and short-sighted financial planning — shortcomings for which media staffers are paying the price.

The companies themselves have remained tight-lipped regarding these recent dismissals. No official statements have been posted on their websites, and their spokespeople have generally not explained the reasoning behind the lay-offs.

Seham Shewada, who lost her job as a labor journalist at Al-Shorouk last month, says that over the past week, she has filed an official complaint to the Ministry of Manpower’s local employment bureau, a claim of wrongful conduct at the local police station, and a petition urging the Journalists Syndicate to lobby for her reinstatement at her job.

“Some months, we had suffered as a result of the non-payment of our salaries. We still have not been paid our salaries for the month of April,” Shewada adds. 

“It’s not like we were a heavy financial burden on the company,” Shewada argues. She says she earned LE1,600 a month at her former newspaper. Furthermore, although she did the work of a full-time staff member at Al-Shorouk for three years, she was only hired on a temporary contract.

Similarly, one of the 67 journalists sacked from the Dot Masr news website in the past few weeks explains that he also had a temporary contract with the company, although he worked full time.

The reporter, who asked to remain anonymous, explains that he was given two months’ severance pay for his year of employment at this online publication, in keeping with the provisions of Egypt’s Unified Labor Law 12/2003.

“We were not provided with any clear reasons regarding our dismissals. However, we were told that the project was suffering from a sudden drop in finances,” he says.

The journalist adds that the administrative boards of many Egyptian media corporations “do not have a clear outlook, and do not have proper financial planning.”

“Most of these administrators and editors are equipped only with antiquated print-media backgrounds. They are not qualified to work on round-the-clock media coverage,” he claims, concluding that “our generation is paying the toll for the changing media scene.”

Some journalists have poured their anger into the Journalists Syndicate, and are seeking to redress their grievances through that institution.

Moataz al-Sherdi of the state-owned Al-Gomhurriya newspaper says that he, and many others, are petitioning Yehia Qallash, syndicate president, “for a swift reinstatement of all punitively sacked and wrongfully dismissed journalists” in their former jobs.

“We call on the syndicate to protect journalists’ contracts, salaries and insurance plans,” says Alaa Saad, another journalist fired from Al-Shorouk.

While several Egyptian media outlets reported on May 7 that Qallash had “entirely resolved” the grievances of Al-Shorouk’s sacked journalists, the reality of the situation is that none of these 18 former staff members have been reinstated or had their demands realized.

Many media professionals have spoken of the dire need to reform the syndicate, whose membership is limited to institutionalized media workers with full-time contracts, although many practice the profession outside of this framework.

“The Journalists Syndicate only defends the employment rights of those journalists who are registered members of the syndicate,” argues Abdel Aziz. “Non-members are neither supported nor recognized.”

Jano Charbel