Cabinet building besieged by two different groups of workers over job issues

Sarah Raslan, Tuesday 15 Nov 2011

Employees of the embattled petrochemical factory MOPCO in Damietta, state information centre workers blast PM Sharaf government in two separate demos staged outside Cabinet building in Cairo

Double protest
MOPCO employees and information centers workers protested outside cabinet headquarters Tuesday (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

As Damietta residents wrapped up their seventh day of continuous demonstrations calling for the closure and relocation of a factory belonging to the Misr Fertilizers Production Company (MOPCO), company employees staged demonstrations outside the Cabinet building in Cairo to protest a government decision to shut the plant.

Citizens of Damietta claim the plant pollutes the coastal city’s waters and threatens the viability of the local fishing industry. Demonstrators told Ahram Online that their protest had escalated after a clash with security forces left one protester dead. They also expressed doubt that the government would follow through on its promises to close the factory.

Tareq Elsayed, a chemist in charge of water treatment at MOPCO who participated in the protest outside the Cabinet building, however, denied local residents’ assertions, saying that water from the plant did not pollute the city’s environs.

“The water is treated and doesn’t kill any fish as Damietta locals claim,” he said. “Factory water doesn’t enter any oceans, seas or rivers.”

Elsayed went on to stress that the government regularly dispatched inspection committees to ensure that the plant was in compliance with all relevant environmental regulations.

“Environmental committees visit at least once every month without prior notice,” he said. “These committees have consistently told us that we’re more environmentally friendly than most Egyptian factories. We also have a sensor capable of detecting pollution.”

Elsayed believes the government shut down the plant for political reasons rather than environmental ones.

“When they saw the protests, they shut down the MOPCO factory in the hopes of winning votes in upcoming parliamentary polls,” he added.

Plant employees were not the only ones voicing their concerns outside the Cabinet building on Tuesday.

State information centre workers, who fall under the umbrella of the Ministry of Administrative Development, also hurled chants against the government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, saying it was as inadequate as the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

Tasked with collecting statistics and data from across the country, including compiling a national census, information centre workers – most of whom were hired on a temporary basis – say their only demand is for permanent employment contracts.

“We’ve been promised permanent contracts numerous times,” said Waleed Elnady, an information centre worker in Cairo’s Mansoura district. “Some of us have been working for up to ten years without permanent contracts, leaving us with no insurance benefits and no retirement fund.”

According to Elnady, the protest marks the workers’ fifth demonstration at the cabinet headquarters since 2006.

“We’ve demanded higher wages and permanent contracts before,” he said. “Our monthly salaries were increased from about LE100 to LE560, but we never attained the job stability that we want and deserve.”

Information centre workers have vowed to maintain their sit-in until the Sharaf government meets their demands for permanent contracts. 

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