Post-revolution labour strikes, social struggles on rise in Egypt: Report

Salma Shukrallah and Randa Ali , Monday 29 Apr 2013

Egypt saw almost four times as many workers' protests last year – in both public and private sectors – as it did in 2010, according to new report by local NGO

Egyptian workers protest.'We want a monthly salary enough to live on 2012 (photo: Mai Shaheen)

The Egyptian Centre for Social and Economic Rights (ECESR) on Sunday issued a new report documenting labour strikes that took place in Egypt last year.

According to the report, in 2012, Egypt witnessed 1,969 protests by workers – in the government, public and private sectors – marking a considerable increase compared to 2010, when only 530 protests were recorded.

The 2012 protests listed in the report represent one of the highest levels of social struggle worldwide and include demonstrations, sit-ins, road blockages and strikes.

Thirty-six percent of these protests were staged to demand better pay, the report stated, going on to note that roughly five major labour protests per day were currently taking place in Egypt.

The report went on to assert that some 380 protests had been held to protest unemployment or demand permanent work contracts.

Another 70, meanwhile, had been prompted by arbitrary practices by management against workers.

The report further cited around 111 protests against 'corrupt' or 'failed' managements. It cited another 29 industrial actions in which workers demanded the re-operating of factories and companies, in addition to the reopening of companies that had been renationalized via court order.

Labour rights activists and ECESR lawyers have succeeded in winning court verdicts ordering the renationalisation of several privatised companies, including the Steam Boilers Company, Omar Effendi, Ideal, Assiut Cement, Nile Ginning Cotton Company, Shebin El-Kom Textiles Company, and Tanta for Flax and Oil.

Many of these verdicts, however, were never applied. Recently, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil was slapped with a suspended one-year jail sentence for failing to implement an administrative court ruling ordering the renationalisation of Egypt's Tanta Flax and Oil Company.

According to a recent report by the International Development Centre, an Egyptian rights organisation, Egypt is currently witnessing a sharp spike in labour and other social protests, with 1,354 protests recorded in March alone compared to 864 protests during the previous month. This means an average of 44 protests per day, or 1.8 protests every hour.

The report also states that the protests were held by 40 different social categories, with most being staged by politically unaffiliated individuals.

The vast majority of protests involved labour rights and rising fuel prices, the report added.

Within the past two years, the report went on, major strikes in Egypt involved railway workers, public transport workers, doctors and police officers.

After the January 25 Revolution ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, expectations were high that many of Egypt's social and economic woes – which many saw as the triggers of the uprising – would be minimised, and that demands for better working conditions and pay would be met.

According to the ECESR report, however, the number of strikes increased when President Mohamed Morsi won the elections, after which hopes were high for economic stability following months of uncertainty.

However, since 2011, Egypt has instead seen weak economic growth and rising costs of living. Government attempts to reduce subsidies have also led to rising prices for basic utilities, including electricity and natural gas.

What's more, the local currency has suffered a sharp devaluation this year due to dwindling foreign currency reserves.

The government is currently trying to modify an economic reform plan in hopes of obtaining a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund after the latter deemed an earlier plan 'weak.' A modified version of the plan is expected to further reduce energy subsidies and raise sales taxes.  

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