Bibliotheca Alexandrina workers achieve some success

Mary Mourad , Wednesday 16 Nov 2011

Cleaning and security staff staged a sit-in since October 28th. Ismail Serag Eddine promises new internal regulations within 60 days.


Winds of unrest hit the Bibliothecan Alexandrina when library workers, mostly cleaning and security staff, staged a sit-in at the end of October, calling for the removal of Ismail Serag Eddine, head of the library. Finally, Serag Eddine accepted some of the workers demands, promising new internal regulations, including minimum and maximum wage, clear guidelines for contract renewal and ending, and finally investigating the complaints against certain managers.

The workers, whose numbers have surpassed the 1,000 mark, began their protests on 28 October, after a periodical renewal extended their contracts for only four months, while traditionally such temporary contracts run for a number of years. The decision caused a lot of disruption, eventually leading to the sacking of various workers held responsible for the strike action. At the same time, workers filed a lawsuit against various library managers, accusing them of "wasting public money."

A statement by the Bibliotheca explained that there was no discrimination when dealing with temporary and permanent contractors. In fact, the library offers permanent contracts to whoever is willing to accept a reduction in nominal salaries in return for other benefits such as social security. It would appear that this was the preferred option at the time when funds were running short, and there was a reduction in sources of other international funding.

However, contrary to workers expectations, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's Cabinet renewed Serag Eddine’s contract on 2 November, just hours before the Bibliotheca Board of Trustees was due to meet in order to agree on a course of action. The board eventually met on 3 November and echoed the decision by the Cabinet to renew Serag Eddine's term, "In appreciation for his efforts, experience and capacities, in addition to his reputable international reputation with positive effects on Egypt."

Meanwhile, promises were floated about, offering contract renewals for a year instead of four months and two workers were rehired. Nevertheless, workers have not called off the strike, maintaining their original demand – the removal of Serag Eddine. Omar Hazek, one of the two laid off workers, explained to Ahram Online that he was fired for criticising the library’s decisions on Facebook. He also emphasised that the sit-in protesters will persist until Serag Eddine is removed. The sit-in was paused for Eid, and continued thereafter, with threats to close the Bibliotheca. 

The situation seemed to be released upon meeting between Serag Eddine and representatives from the protestors. In a statment by Khaled Azab, head of media department at the Bibliotheca, explained that new regulations will be put in place, and a committee representing workers will be formed to review all drafts before passing them.

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