3,000 workers go on strike in Egypt's Mahalla

Hadeer El-Mahdawy , Tuesday 7 Feb 2017

File Photo: Mahalla Company

Almost 3,000 textile workers in Mahalla El-Kubra, mostly women, announced a strike on Tuesday, several workers told Ahram Online.

The workers in the clothing section of the Mahalla Textile and Weaving Company are striking to demand payment of a variety of benefits they say that they are entitled to.

Two female workers who asked to remain anonymous told Ahram Online that their main demands are "applying a court order to get the [development bonus] raised to almost EGP 600 instead of EGP 360, and to get the seven-month delayed social raise, which is 10 percent of the basic salary, and to get the full nutrition allowance, which is EGP 320 instead of EGP 210."

“My monthly salary is EGP 2,000, and they have started to take taxes from it,” said one worker.

“I have three children, and I had to take my eldest girl out of school as I cannot afford her expenses. We’re not demanding thousands of pounds.Those few pounds are our right, and it will not even be enough to face the high prices of everything. The 10 percent raise will only add EGP 70 to my salary," she added.

Labour activist and former Mahalla Textile and Weaving Company employee Nagy Haider, who was dismissed from the company in 2015 for leading a number of strikes, said that the whole company will join the strike on Wednesday if their demands are not met.

Haider added that there is a possibility that other textile and weaving workers around Egypt will join the strike with similar demands.

Mahalla Textile and Weaving Company is one of the biggest textile and cotton companies in the country; the sector as a whole comprises 32 companies and employs 60,000 workers around the country.

However many of the workers are not sure if their colleagues will join their action. One of the workers told Ahram Online that they were warned that the National Security Apparatus will intervene if the strike does not end before Wednesday, echoing fear of a crackdown.

The government introduced a law in 2013 that severely restricts protests and strikes in Egypt, and thousands have been jailed for violating the law, including workers.

However, according to the annual report issued in December by the Egyptian Centre for Social and Economic Rights, during 2016 the governmental sector witnessed almost 478 “industrial actions” while the public sector saw 133 actions and the private sector witnessed 107 actions.

In October 2015, the workers of Mahalla Company – a public company -- went on strike for 12 days, to demand they receive a benefit known as the social raise. The action was successful and they were awarded nine months-worth of the raise.

The company’s workers have placed a major part in political developments in Egypt in the last decade, including in major protests against the Mubarak regime in 2008.

"The number of the workers [in the company] was 24,000 in 2006, but has decreased to 15,000 today as many workers have been dismissed,” said Haider.

Ahram Online was unable to reach both the head of the general union of textile workers, and the chairman of the Textile and Weaving Company for comment.

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