Egypt's transport strikers push on in face of 'punitive' govt conditions

Yassin Gaber , Sunday 2 Oct 2011

Public bus drivers continue their Cabinet sit-in after rejecting inadequate government offer

Transport strikers
Transport strikers 2 October, 2011(Photo by Mai Shaheen)

Transport authority workers will continue their sit-in outside the Cabinet’s offices after Saturday night’s failed government negotiations. Around a thousand striking transport workers from across Cairo have been demonstrating on Qasr El-Aini Street, one of the city’s major thoroughfares, and Maglis Al-Shaab Street, the seat of Egypt’s Parliament.

Workers told Ahram Online that they woke up on Sunday morning to report to work believing the government had agreed to their demands as State TV and various media outlets announced the night before. However, the independent union had in fact not signed the alleged agreement, as the terms reportedly presented to the Public Transport Authority’s (PTA) employees were a setback rather than a step forward.

After buses from 14 garages out of 24 began the morning shift drivers were informed there was no deal.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s Cabinet announced that it had allocated the LE128 million needed to meet the transport workers demands for wage restructuring and end of service bonuses but the drivers say that they realised only half this amount was really allocated. Also, the offer, according to the striking workers, came with punitive and inhumane conditions.

The drivers, for example, currently work 20 days per month.  The Cabinet’s offer, however, demanded that workers clock-in 26 days per month in order to qualify for the wage adjustments.

Drivers and ticket collectors, a large portion of the PTA’s striking workers, showed Ahram Online pay stubs, documenting their low wages. The basic monthly salary of one veteran driver, a PTA employee for 16 years, is a shocking LE250 ($42). After bonuses, he earns a meagre LE488.5 ($82) per month.

PTA workers are also demanding parity with other government employees regarding end of service packages.  At the moment, workers receive a maximum of LE10,000, about a fourth of the demanded 100 month salary bonus which corresponds to the guaranteed amount in other governemnt agencies. What is more, the government has not been paying retirees their full insurance (social security) benefits despite  deducting tens of pounds from paychecks every month.

The strikers are maintaining their resolve, displaying no signs of fatigue, as fellow employees are bussed in from a number of Greater Cairo’s garages. Scenes in front of the Cabinet have in fact bordered on celebratory. Protesters, for instance, have been standing atop buses, beating on drums and chanting against Sharaf and Minister of Manpower Ahmed Hassan El-Boraei.

The government’s intransigence, according to many workers, has galvanised strikers even more. Many have complained that the Cabinet has been playing games with them and refusing to take them seriously. “We are human beings, we are also parents. We want to serve the public, but the government doesn’t want to take us seriously,” a 21-year veteran bus driver exclaimed.

Egypt's minister of manpower announced last week that the strike costs the government more than LE1 million per day.

Another PTA driver stressed a similar sentiment: “We are citizens of the Arab Republic of Egypt, but [the government] treats us as though we are foreigners: as though we were labourers from Sudan or Libya.”

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