Egypt’s only private port, Sokhna, has been shut for its fourth consecutive day as workers and the port’s management fail to reach a compromise on worker demands that will allow operations to resume.
Workers refused to enter the port on Sunday morning after the operating company, DP World, asked them to sign a pledge they would not engage in any form of strike that would slow down operations at the cargo terminals.
"We agreed to waive the pledge if the workers verbally promise to work at full capacity. But even after that they declined to enter the port," an official at DP World told Ahram Online, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Workers are currently protesting in front of the governorate building in Suez, demanding their outstanding demands be met so they can return to work.
In May, the port's 1,200 full-time workers staged a strike to pressure management into meeting its list of 16 demands, among them the establishing of a 'risk allowance' for workers and a complete restructuring of the company’s wage structure.
DP World’s promised to meet its workers’ demands within a short timeframe, convincing them to end their strike and wait for results.
But last Tuesday, workers started a partial strike saying that DP World had not followed through on its earlier promises.
After talking to both workers and management, Ahram Online was left with a strong impression of a deep-rooted lack of trust between the two parties.
"They restructured wages, but we did not participate in the process, and we don’t know its results," Ali Selim, vice president of the workers syndicate explained.
Selim added that the company posted information about the outcome of the restructuring process in English, a language the majority of workers don’t understand.
As for the 'risk allowance', Selim said the company brought a committee from the Ministry of Labour to assess the risk level of each job and then recommend an appropriate amount for the allowance.
Ahram Online sources say that the assessment committee took just one hour to examine the port’s facilities, despite spending more than four hours with company management.
Workers believe the assessment committee might be intentionally delaying their decision for which they have been waiting almost a month.
They also claim a similar activity was carried out in Sharq El-Tafreea port in the city of Port Said, but was concluded after four days, with workers granted a risk allowance.
DP World’s CEO, Captain Rustom Dastoor, declined to comment on the issue when contacted by Ahram Online.
"We agreed on 15 out of the 16 demands. This last one is out of our hands," a DP World official said, referring to the risk allowance.
DP World hired a British consultancy firm, Hay Group, to carry out the wage restructuring process.
"It is not the workers’ right to tell us how much to pay in wages. We agreed to restructure the wages -- now the minimum wage at the port is LE2,200 per month and 60 per cent of salaries are above LE5,000,” the official said.
"The new wage structure is not a secret. We were in a hurry, that’s why we posted it in English. But whoever wants to inquire about it can simply ask us," he added.
Abdel Kader Gaballah, head of the Red Sea Ports Authority (RSPA), which acts as a mediator between workers and DP World’s management, told Ahram Online that a solution might be reached within hours.
“This port generates LE15 million (US$2.5m) daily in fees for the Egyptian government, not to mention the collateral loss in business that depends on this port. We cannot afford to keep it shut down for long," he said.
"We are trying all we can to resolve the situation, and have asked the company to waive the no-strike pledge they wanted workers to sign as a good will initiative."