Workers question official statistics on unemployment figures
Independent unions strike outside ETUF in 2011

According to figures published on Sunday by the state’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), unemployment increased slightly in the third quarter of 2015, affecting 12.8 percent of the Egyptian workforce.

CAPMAS reports there are currently 3.6 million unemployed Egyptians. According to these findings, the Egyptian workforce currently numbers around 28 million (from a total domestic population of over 89.4 million, with another eight million reportedly living abroad).

Worker and labor rights activists, however, are questioning CAPMAS’s latest figures, claiming they are inaccurate.

CAPMAS indicates that 12.8 percent represents a minor increase in the national unemployment rate, as the second quarter of 2015 had registered a rate of 12.7 percent. This increase translates into 78,000 additional unemployed workers and employees in the third quarter of this year.

The figures do show improvement compared to the same quarter last year, when the official unemployment rate was 13.1 percent.

However, Fatma Ramadan, an industrial-safety inspector at the Ministry of Manpower and independent union organizer, believes that the unemployment figures cited by CAPMAS “are inaccurate and have been largely downplayed.”

“The real unemployment rate may be up to double that which they are currently claiming,” she asserts.

“We demand genuine and accurate statistics regarding unemployment, so that we can find genuine solutions to this national problem,” Ramadan explains. “Apparently, this unemployment rate doesn’t include or take into account factors such as seasonal unemployment, temporary employment, masked and hidden unemployment, or child labor.”

Among those not accounted for within the statistics are homemakers, domestic help, and many other workers in the informal sector.

“CAPMAS calculates unemployment rates based on the numbers of those actively seeking employment — primarily at the offices of the Ministry of Manpower,” Ramadan explains. “What typically happens is that if a jobless worker doesn’t find a job opportunity through the ministry, they don’t keep coming back.”

Ramadan adds that these workers may instead seek job opportunities via private employment firms, or informal networks.

Ramadan highlighted in particular the mass-layoffs associated with the closure of hundreds of state-owned factories since the 2011 revolution, adding that only a trivial number of new factories or industries are being established.

“The government is not concerned with the plight of unemployed workers, and this is reflected in the lack of implementation of judicial verdicts demanding that stalled public sector companies be re-operated, and that thousands of workers be reinstated,” Ramadan argues.

Proportional to the workforce, the unemployment rate in urban areas of Cairo currently amounts to 15 percent while in rural areas it reportedly amounts to 11.2 percent. These rates are gradually increasing – in both the countryside and cities – in comparison to the past four quarters.

CAPMAS issued additional details regarding the unemployment rate. According to its breakdown, 9.3 percent of males in the workforce are unemployed, while 24.9 percent of females in the workforce are currently jobless. Over the last few quarters, the unemployment rate continues to gradually increase among women, while it has slightly decreased among men.

Hisham al-Oql, one of nearly 600 former workers at the Tanta Flax and Oils Company, who has been unemployed for the past seven years, also points to the general governmental disinterest in labor rights.

Oql dismisses CAPMAS’s unemployment figures as inaccurate. “Real unemployment probably amounts to more than double the figure they’ve cited.”

“We are filing further legal appeals for the implementation of the court verdicts,” Oql explains, referring to those issued in 2011 for the re-operation of stalled companies and reinstatement of workers. “Yet the government is simply ignoring our demands, and refusing to respect judicial rulings,” he adds.

Fifty-year-old Oql adds that he has to rely on his mother for financial assistance, so that he can support his wife and son.

For the past four years, Oql has been seeking to unify the efforts and demands of thousands of other jobless workers to demand the re-opening of the following stalled companies: Tanta Flax and Oils, Simo Paper, Nile Cotton Ginning, Nasr Steam Boilers and Omar Effendy department stores, among others.

Oql said the government talks of promoting production and creating additional job opportunities, but is not doing so effectively.

Ramadan also pointed to “an increase in the rate of punitive sackings of workers,” including laborers who are fired for organizing independent unions in their workplaces for protesting, striking, or “calling for the accountability of corrupt administrators.”

According to the independent unionist, the fourth quarter of 2015 may bear the grimmest unemployment rate yet, as tourism has been hit hard over the past two weeks in Sharm el-Sheikh and elsewhere, amid allegations of a bomb on board a Russian Metrojet passenger plane that crashed in Sinai, killing all 224 passengers and crew members on October 31.

Ramadan concluded that this employment crisis coincides with the high season of foreign tourism to Egypt.

Jano Charbel 

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