Workers strike at Egypt's historic Ben-Zaion retail company

Bassem Abo Alabass, Thursday 13 Mar 2014

Workers demand withheld back pay and sacking of company's chairman, Nour Bakr, who says that 2013 was first year Benzaion saw profits in a decade

Egypt’s state-run Modern Fashion Company Benzaion (Photo: Benzaion website)

Tens of workers at Egypt's state-run Modern Fashion Company (Ben-Zaion, Ades, Rivoli) protested on Wednesday at the interim government's headquarters to demand withheld back pay and the removal of the company's chairman and board of directors.

The workers claim that the company's debts to its suppliers have reached more than LE20 million ($2.8 million), Al-Ahram's daily newspaper reported on Thursday.

The workers also allege that there is a backroom plan to privatise the company.

In an interview with Ahram Online on Thursday, Nour Bakr, chairman of the 63-year-old company Ben-Zaion, said that the workers's claim "don't make sense," being that the company is one of the "very few" companies in the public business sector to record profits.

In 2013, Ben-Zaion's net profits hit LE2.3 million ($0.3m), the first time in a decade that it had seen any profits at all, Bakr said.

The gains come after LE260 million ($37.6 million) in consolidated losses in 2012, he said.

Bakr dismissed claims that he had let go 25 workers based in the company's subsidiary in the Cairo district of Shubra Al-Khaimah, insisting that he had instead repositioned them in Quesna, Menoufiya governorate where they could be closer to their homes.

In response to the protesting workers' financial demands, Bark said that last year he raised the total wages of the company's 1,250 workers by 60 percent, from LE15.6 million ($2.2 million) in 2012 to LE25.1 million ($3.6 million) in 2013.

Ben-Zaion was established in 1951 by a Jewish businessmen as a high-end shop for wealthy foreigners and upper-class Egyptians.

The company was re-nationalised in the early 1960s by former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser.

Ben-Zaion currently operates under law 203 from 1991 as a subsidiary of the Holding Company for Tourism, Hotels and Cinema (HOTAC), which owns 100 percent of the company's shares.

Before 2008, Ben-Zaion was under the state’s Holding Company for Internal Trade.

Its 84 retail outlets specialise in goods and consumer durables such as textiles, household appliances, linens and furniture.

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