Egypt's truckers' strike: From start to finish
Trucking strike brought on by new traffic regulations come to a temporary end as drivers associations test government's commitment to their demands
, Thursday 16 Dec 2010
"We are the country's hemoglobin," said veteran truck driver Mahmoud Sayed, "we bring the food and the raw materials to all its cells. If we stop working, everything stops working."
Sayed proudly articulated these words at the end of a six-day truckers' strike that brought a significant bulk of Egypt's 70,000 or so heavy goods vehicles to a stubborn standstill.
Their motive? - Fighting new traffic regulations that will increase their annual taxes, allow harsher fines for excess cargo, ban their use of highways on Thursdays and Fridays, and cut down the four-year grace period for phasing out trailers to just two. Or so claim the truckers, who began their strike last Friday, temporarily ending it the following Wednesday.
Though media reports stated that the Ministry of Finance proposed last month to increase truck drivers' annual taxes from LE1120 to LE4200, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif denied last Monday any such intention, saying "the whole [strike] was based on rumours."
Despite this, the day before the PM's statement the Ministry of Finance formally reversed its decision to raise taxes during a meeting between Tax Authority president, Ahmed Refaat, and the Drivers Association president, Mostafa Nowhy. Mohamed Allam, an advisor for the finance minister, further confirmed that the proposed new cargo tax was cancelled.
It is unclear why the strike went on for four more days after this decision, but a lack of trust in government promises seems to be key.
"Even if it is true about the taxes -- and I bet you they'll go on with it anyway -- what about all the other regulations?" asked Methat Farghani, a truck owner who expressed his disappointment at how short-lived the strike was.
"If trailers have to be off the roads in two years," he went on, "even if in four years, how are we supposed to get rid of them? Who will buy them?"
The decision to remove trailers off Egypt's roads led to a massive drop in their worth. While the average resale value recently stood at LE150,000, they will now be sold as scrap for only LE10,000.
Like other truck owners, Farghani also wants the current six-year period required to obtain truck driving licenses ("Which nobody follows anyway," he interjects) to be reduced, and for a training school to be established.
As these demands were made by drivers associations to government representatives over the week, fears of bread shortages mounted with grain mills' supplies nearly depleted.
LE500 million were incurred by the government, according to the Land Transportation Association, within two days of the strike. Moreover, Sunday's dust storm further escalated matters as closed shipping ports were overcrowded with boats that required excess trucks the following day to help unload them.
And while not all of Egypt's truck drivers participated in the strike, those that did want to work remained immobile as striking drivers blocked international roads, with incidents reported of operating trucks being destroyed.
Ultimately, an agreement was reached between truckers associations to suspend strikes for three months during which they would test the government's seriousness about canceling the proposed tax.
On the government's end, Transport Minister Alaa Fahmy agreed to establish a training school for drivers, though said the regulations surrounding the phasing out of trailers from roads was not up for negotiation.
It's this particular point of contention that keeps truck owners like Farghani inclined to re-start the strike.
"The government says it will subsidize the process," he says, "but no matter how you calculate it, we'll come out losing a lot."