Egypt business head hits out at minimum wage plans

Michael Gunn, Tuesday 31 May 2011

Conference delegate tells manpower minister that a crisis is not the time to pursue equality

Egypt's Minister of Manpower has fended off protests from the business community over plans to update the country's minimum wage, saying there is enormous popular pressure for the move.

Speaking at a economics workshop in Cairo on Tuesday, Ahmed El-Boraei found the government's minimum wage proposals under attack by Gamal Bayoumi, head of the Arab Investors Union.
"Facing a crisis you don't say 'hike the wages' ... in crisis I'm not searching for equality, I want bread and butter," said Bayoumi, who dubbed a minimum wage figure of LE1200 mentioned by one NGO and floated in the media "a joke". He cited the counter-example of post-war Germany which froze wages and increased working hours as it rebuilt its economy.
El-Boraei was quick to hit back, saying a minimum wage wasn't just a worker's right but a human right.
"We are calling for social equality - can you handle the Egyptian street if you tell them we won't settle a minimum wage?" he said. 
"If we say no [to the wage] the Egyptian will hit Tahrir again, take bribes - or become another Bouazizi," he added, the latter a reference to the unemployed Tunisian who set himself ablaze in protest at his lack of economic opportunities.
El-Boraei said prospective wage figures mentioned in the Egyptian press were baseless and no figure will be announced until consultations with government ministries and the business community are concluded. 
The current minimum wage sits at LE36 per month, the same level it has been since 1984. Common estimates put a future readjustment at between LE450 and LE800 and applied to both public and private sectors.
"We did not breathe a word about the minimum wage [level] ... I would ask you not to believe all what you see in newspapers," El-Boraei told the roundtable on Egyptian labour issues held at the Egyptian Centre for Economic Studies headquarters in Cairo's Nile Tower.
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