About 300 workers began a strike at noon today in front of the Cabinet offices in downtown Cairo.
The protesters consisted of employees from the ministry of agriculture as well as former employees of the Amonsito Textiles Company. The former came mostly from the governorate of Behaira to voice their anger over the fact that for 15 years they have been working in the ministry with temporary contracts having been refused permanent ones. Additionally, employees, most of who work in the Tree Planting Project, earn LE41 per month and claim that they have not been paid since June 2006.
“[Prime Minister] Essam Sharaf tell us how can we live with LE41 a month,” chanted the crowd, insisting that they want to talk to officials from the Ministry: “We will not leave without our permanent contracts.”
Gomaa El-Gazar, a member of the local council of Beheira who led the protests said that the ministry is violating its own rules by not giving permanent contracts to its employees.
“The ministry regulations stipulate that anyone who works there for three years gets a permanent contract, but most people here are still temporary workers despite almost two decades of work,” El-Gazar said.
Fawqeya Talaat who has been working in the ministry for 15 years says that in 2001, the ministry had given contracts to workers who were employed in 1984 and promised that every year they would give new contracts, but never fulfilled its promise.
“Last year, they sent me a confirmation letter informing me that I could become a permanent employee,” says Talaat. “But by the time I got the letter, my name was taken off the list.”
Other workers claim that after receiving their confirmation letters they were told to go to the ministry headquarters in Cairo where they found themselves going home empty handed.
“We come to Cairo with all the official papers and application requests they want and keep going round and round, without going anywhere,” said Enas Mohamed, who has been working for the ministry since 1991. “They do this to us every five years and we are sick of it.”
While waiting to speak to officials, the protesters were handed a letter, dated 24 March 2011 and signed by the head of the ministry’s financial affairs administration. The letter stated that the funding for the Tree Planting Project had ended in 2007 and requested that ministry officials deal with the employees.
“How can the project have ended in 2007 if we go in and sign our name in the office registrar every day?” fumed worker Jehan Metwali. “Why are they telling us this now?”
On the pavement across the street, around 150 workers from the Amonsito Textile Company, one of a group of textile manufacturing factories in the industrial city of 10 Ramadan owned by Syrian-American tycoon Adel Agha, also held a demonstration asking the government and Banque Misr to pay them the rest of their redundancy package. The company was closed down after Agha fled the country in 2007 with massive debts. Egyptian law stipulates that in cases of factory liquidation the owner must give workers compensation packages. If the owner is unable to pay, the creditor, Banque Misr, has to pay the workers. Yet, in this case, workers are complaining that the bank, which controls all the company’s assets, refused to liquidate them in order to compensate the workers.
After being denied their packages, the Amonsito workers held a 21 day sit-in in March 2010 until they reached a settlement agreement which stipulated that those employed for more than 20 years will receive three months pay for every year they worked in the company, whereas those employed for less than 20 years will receive four months’ salary per year worked. The compensation packaged totaled LE106 million, though workers claim they have only received LE65 million of the package and demand that the bank pay the rest.
Ashraf Nabil, an Amonsito worker, stated that he and his fellow employees are enraged that the bank has refused to pay the rest of the money. “They lied to us and now we want the rest of our money back,” says Nabil. “I worked for this company for years and want my money back.”
Alongside Amonsito employees were workers from the Arab American Company, also owned by Agha, which was closed in 2001. As with the Syrian’s textile company, the workers, many of whom had been working for the firm since their early teens, received no compensation. The Arab American workers say that they want a settlement agreement similar to Amonsito’s.
“They have only been suffering for two years, but we have been going to court after court for ten years now,” says Ahmed Ahmed. “They told us not to protest and go to court, but the court hasn’t helped and now we will strike like the workers of Amonsito because that’s the only way you get your rights in this country.”