Operations at Egypt’s North Cairo Electricity Distribution Company (NCEDC) have been on hold for the fifth day in row due to a sit-in by workers demanding the release of 17 of their colleagues who are currently under arrest.
The workers are threatening to escalate their protest by cutting off electricity to districts of Cairo supplied by the state-run company, protesting worker Ahmed Adel told Ahram Online on Friday.
The company serves more than 3.8 million Egyptians.
Last week, around a thousand workers gathered at the main headquarters of the company in Cairo to protest the management’s decision to remove a 50 percent bonus from their monthly pay cheques.
Security forces attempted to stop the protests, arresting 15 of the workers on charges of blocking the street and damaging public property.
“It was a peaceful protest, and there wasn’t any need for the security forces' violence against us,” Adel said.
“The police forces arrested 15 people on Monday, then they released three on bail, but they returned two days ago to call five new workers to be questioned.”
According to Adel, thousands of workers in five subsidiaries of NCEDC have showed solidarity with the detained workers, announcing strikes and halting operations of their branches.
“If residents of these districts face electricity blackouts, they won’t find maintence workers who are responsible for fixing failures,” Adel warned.
The workers’ protest has become a dispute with the police, rather than the management, a source within the company’s management, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Ahram Online.
“The chairman, for his part, vowed that no one would touch the workers’ bonuses and he assigned a lawyer to defend the arrested,” the source said.
No one at the electricity ministry was available for comment.
Over the last two years, Cairo has endured repeated power outages due to fuel shortages. Its expected that outages will continue during the summer as the national electricity grid is estimated to be overloaded by around 2,500 megawatts on rush days and on days that see heat waves.
Egypt’s electricity consumption during the summer is expected to rise to 29,500 megawatts per day, exacerbated by the hot weather and the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in July. Egypt's daily capacity for generating electricity currently stands at around 27,000 megawatts.
Egyptian workers played a critical part in the protests leading up to the removal of former president Mubarak, but in the two years since the uprising, many have complained of few improvements in their working conditions.
Labour rights advocates accuse President Mohamed Morsi’s government of taking a tough stance on striking workers, by using riot police to break up strikes and arrest strike organisers, and firing or disciplining public sector workers engaged in labour action.