“We have rights and we want them. Boys and girls one hand,” chant around 800 young workers of the Mega Textile company in the industrial city of El Sadat. On Thursday, their strike entered its fourth day.
The young and relatively inexperienced workers are showing impressive determination; the strike is their sixth in four years, which is how long ago their company was inaugurated by ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
Their main demands are an increase of the maximum insured wage from LE150 to 200; payment of the 15 per cent bonus; a daily meal; adherence to the eight-hour working day with a one-hour break; overtime pay for each extra hour of work and no repercussion for workers for any reasons, a demand reflecting their sense of injustice.
According to the workers, some of them were deprived benefits for denouncing a salary cut or asking for an increase or other rights. In some cases, workers were fired for making such demands. “After the 2008 strike, 160 workers were fired and others had to sign a resignation letter that can be used against them at any time,” a worker revealed.
“Sometimes, if I work four Fridays per month, they only pay [me] for three. Recently I worked overtime for 23 days, I was paid for only 15,” another worker said.
“It’s very hard to get a day off and most of the time holidays are deducted from our wage,” adds another.
The workers are also complaining of not receiving any serious medical care. “We have no medical insurance and there is no doctor in the company. Look at his arm," says Mahmoud Abdel Nasser, head of the company's new syndicate, pointing at a colleague's scarred limb. "He was burned and we couldn’t treat him immediately and he will have this mark forever.” The syndicate Abdel Nasser heads is yet to be recognised yet by the company's administration.
“It gets very hot in summer especially as there is a lack of ventilation and many faint everyday in additions to health problems caused by hyrax,” continued one worker.
The workers of the Turkish company also complain of discrimination against them in favour of foreign workers, who are mainly Indian and Bangladeshi. Ahram Online was shown the pay slips of some Egyptian workers who claim to be doing the same job as that performed by foreign employees. While the Egyptians on average earn LE400, the wage for non-Egyptians exceeds LE1200.
Workers are also claiming that the proportion of foreigner employees exceeds the legally permitted amount of 10 per cent.
Their anger escalated on Wednesday when, according to eye witness accounts, one of the Turkish directors slapped a female employee on her face while she was speaking to him.
The story was later confirmed by the Center for Trade Unions and Workers' Services (CTUWS). In a statement, CTUWS said that after many hours of negotiations between the workers and their administration in the presence of representatives of the labour office and the Ministry of Manpower, the administration agreed to only a LE30 increase in salaries. Unsatisfied by this response, the workers say they will continue protesting.
The Mega Textile administration was not available to comment.