Spate of industrial action continues to gather steam

Thousands of workers are protesting in different locations across Egypt in a spate of industrial actions that continues to pick up steam.

Around 3,000 workers started a strike at Egypt’s largest aluminum company on Sunday, while several hundred other workers also launched a sit-in protest at Egypt’s largest steel mill – Steel and Iron Company – in Helwan. This while other industrial actions continued – including a strike at the Shebin al-Kom Textiles Company and the Petrotrade Company in Assiut City. All these industrial actions continued on into Monday.

Aluminum workers demand promised profit shares

An estimated 3,000 employees at aluminum producer Egytalum Company – located in the town of Nagaa Hammady in the southern governorate of Qena – commenced their strike on Sunday in demand of profit-shares, which the company had promised them. This strike is reportedly a partial strike, with only around one-third of workers involved.

However, workers at the company are threatening to embark on a comprehensive strike – stopping work on all production lines – if their demands are not met over the next few days.

According to a statement published by the independent Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS) on Sunday, the striking workers have been demanding 12 months of profit-shares – as the company’s administration had previously promised them. The strike reportedly commenced when the workers learned that the administration was only going to pay 10 months of shares.

The CTUWS reported that workers refused an offer from company administrators to call off their strike in exchange for receiving their profit shares in full by April 2016.

This is the first partial strike to take place at Egyptalum this year, though there have reportedly been protests and partial strikes at this company over the past few years in relation to similar demands.

Administrators of this large company – the majority of which is state-owned – have been reporting that the company is unable to pay the profit shares, as it is incurring losses. Some estimates suggest that the company may be in debt to the tune of LE 250 million.

Workers have accused the company’s administration – and that of the Holding Company for Mineral Industries (which oversees Egyptalum) – of mismanagement.

The CTUWS reported that the demands of the striking and protesting workers at the Egyptalum Company include the full payment of 12 months of profit shares to each worker, along with the dismissal of the chairman of the board of directors, and two of his deputies, along with the removal of the president of the local union committee.

Workers are demanding that if there are no profits to be shared, they should be paid the equivalent in bonuses, in order to supplement their salaries.

According to the coverage of state-owned Al-Ahram Gate, just over 600 workers are involved in the partial strike. The workers are reported to be prepared to call off their strike and protests if they are paid the equivalent of the profit-shares they are owed before the end of this year.

Quoting striking workers at this aluminum company, Al-Ahram reported that they do not want their work stoppage to result in additional losses for the company, but they are adamant about realizing their wage-related demands, and their demands for replacing senior company administrators. Workers have reportedly been calling on the prime minister to intervene and help meet their demands.

Steel workers also seek missing profit shares

In a similar scenario, hundreds of workers at the country’s largest steel mill – the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company – embarked on a march and sit-in protest within their workplace on Sunday over the non-payment of profit-shares.

Located in Cairo’s southeastern industrial district of Helwan, this gargantuan state-owned company has also been incurring hefty losses. Workers here claim that negligence, mismanagement and a lack of coke fuel to power its furnaces have led this company to incur approximately LE 1 billion in losses over the past 10 years.

Sunday’s protest was reportedly led by hundreds of workers operating the company’s furnaces and its sintering factory.

As with the case of Egyptalum, workers at the Egyptian Steel and Iron Company have been demanding profit shares – amounting to nine months’ pay – which they had been paid in previous years. 

However, company administrators have said that there are no profits to be shared, only losses. 

The workers are in turn demanding the payment of bonuses amounting to the nine months of profit-shares, which they used to receive prior to the company’s losses and indebtedness.

On Monday, the privately owned Al-Bawaba news reported that these workers would continue to protest until they have received a definitive answer from company administrators regarding when and how much they will be paid. Quoting protesting workers, Al-Bawaba explained that they are not embarking on strike action, however.

The CTUWS reports that workers have also unified their ranks to demand the dismissal of the chairman of the board of directors, the reinstatement of all co-workers who were punitively relocated, and the dissolution of their local trade union committee – which they claim does not represent them.

Several protests, including a few partial strikes and hunger strikes, have taken place amongst the 11,000-strong workforce of the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company this year.

Textile workers demand return to full-scale production

In other labor news, hundreds of workers at the state-owned Shebin al-Kom Textiles Company have continued with their strike action for the third consecutive week.

The Shebin al-Kom Textile Company (previously a public-works-sector company) was privatized approximately 10 years ago, being sold to the Indonesian-based Indorama Textiles Company. Following lawsuits from workers (regarding the company’s privatization at a price well below its real market value) the Indonesia investors began divesting and laying-off workers en masse. The company’s production dramatically declined under these conditions.

In 2011, the Administrative Court ruled that the company was, in fact, sold for far less than its real value. The company was ordered to be returned to the management of the state-owned Holding Company for Textile Industries, and sacked workers (or those pushed into early retirement) were ordered to be reinstated in their former jobs.

Located in the Nile Delta governorate of Munifiya, workers at this textile company have been demanding that the company be returned to its original capacity, rather than the current capacity and workforce of around 50 percent.

Nearly 1,500 workers have also been on strike demanding the accountability of their administrators, reinstatement of all punitively sacked workers, and those who were forced into early retirement – amounting to nearly 300 workers.

Pushed into early retirement several years ago, worker Ragab al-Shimy told Mada Masr, “None of our demands are being met. We are only being met with additional resistance from the company administrators.”

Shimy added that their “demands are falling on deaf ears.” However, he said that the industrial action “would continue until administrators uphold judicial verdicts stipulating our return to the company, and its re-operation in full.”

The private Masr al-Arabiya news portal reported on Sunday that six strike leaders are currently being threatened with dismissal from work for halting production, threatening company officials, and assaulting the company’s chief of security.

Petroleum workers demand improved pay and conditions

Elsewhere, hundreds of employees at the state-owned Petrotrade Company – a petroleum billing and services company in the southern governorate of Assiut – embarked on their second day of protests and partial strikes on Sunday, continuing on into Monday.

The privately owned ONA news agency reported that these workers are demanding parity with their co-workers in other branches of this company, including equal pay-scales, bonuses and employment rights.

Last week, hundreds of Petrotrade employees in the Mediterranean governorate of Alexandria embarked on strikes and protests, for nearly identical demands. These workers at the company’s Alexandria branch are reported to have largely called-off their industrial action after receiving pledges from senior management that their demands would be met over the next few weeks.

Over the past five years, there have been several strikes and labor protests at the Petrotrade Company’s different branches nationwide, primarily in Cairo.

This wave of labor dissatisfaction with the Petrotrade Company’s employment policies has more recently spread (particularly this year) to the company’s branches in Alexandria and Assiut.

Jano Charbel 

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