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​Temporary workers rally outside Agriculture Ministry, demanding full-time contracts and livable monthly wage
Courtesy: Tree-planters' Facebook page

Dozens of workers who have been employed by the Agriculture Ministry to plant and maintain trees in governorates across Egypt gathered outside the ministry’s Giza headquarters on Monday to demand the contracted labor and livable wages the government had promised them.

The protests follow a January 18 meeting between representatives of the temporary agriculture workers and Prime Minister Sherif Ismail’s secretariat, who, according to Sameh Mostafa – a tree planter from the Gharbiya Governorate, pledged that 13,800 workers would be employed on full-time contracts.

Mostafa told Mada Masr that the Cabinet officials specified neither which workers would be eligible to sign new full-time contracts, nor the details of potential salaries in the meeting. Other workers, however, asserted that the full-time wages will be determined according to each worker’s educational degree and years spent working with the ministry.

“We just want to make sure that we are among the workers who are employed on the new contracts,” Mustafa said. “We are calling for authorities to pay us wages on which we can survive, not the LE 40 that they used to pay us in previous years.”

The Agriculture Ministry pays temporary workers LE 40 per month – less than US$ 4 under the current foreign currency exchange rate, which is a determining force for the Egyptian pound’s buying power. Mustafa stated that he and his coworkers are calling for wages that would align with the LE 1,200 monthly national minimum wage for full-time public sector workers, “or LE 1,500 in light of rising inflation rates, so that we can feed our families.”

While those that can find work have decried the low wages, other workers told Mada Masr that they have been unable to find temporary work for a decade.

Nagwa Abdel Salam, a protesting worker from Giza, told Mada Masr that she and several other workers have been out of work since 2006, and thus “have not even been paid the entirely insufficient LE 40 that we used receive.” She stated that the Cabinet and the Agriculture Ministry had moved to employ several thousand temporary agriculture workers on full-time contracts in 2013, but there are still many that have been kept in precarious conditions.

“We’ve all been out of the job and out of money for years. I have to rely on my mother for allowance, like a child. It is humiliating,” said 46-year-old Mahmoud Eissa, who added that he accepted the temporary work and low salary “in hopes of eventually landing full-time work with the government on a full-time contract and with proper wages.”

The workers gathered outside the Agriculture Ministry stated that they would continue to return to ministry’s gates until they are given further details on the pay they are to receive and the capacity they would be employed in, in addition to guarantees as to a timetable to sign the contract.

“We will come back again, and again, and again, until these matters are made clear to us” Mostafa said.

Ministerial security personnel did not allow journalists to enter the ministry’s headquarters or speak with its officials. A plain-clothed police officer harassed a journalist from Mada Masr who was conducting interviews with the protesting workers.

Over the past few years, many workers have been promised full-time contracts and a monthly wage of LE 500, which is still less than half the national minimum wage of LE 1,200 per month. When these promises have been partially met, workers have demonstrated to try to ensure work.