Ceramica cleopatra workers (Photo: Ahmed Feteha)
Hundreds of disgruntled Cleopatra Ceramics workers on Thursday afternoon blocked the streets in front of Egypt's Supreme Court in downtown Cairo to reiterate longstanding labour grievances.
Chanting slogans against employer Mohamed Abul-Enein, a former member of ousted president Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP), workers arrived at the court building on Thursday morning to escalate their protests after Egypt's newly-inaugurated President Mohamed Morsi failed to resolve the issue.
"Morsi met two of our labour syndicate committee representatives on Monday and pledged the dispute would be settled by Tuesday, but nothing has happened," said one protester who preferred to remain anonymous.
Aggravated motorists, meanwhile, stuck in traffic in the stifling noontime heat, engaged in fights with some demonstrators, who blocked the busy intersection. After completely paralysing traffic for some 15 minutes, workers eventually reopened the road.
"Abul-Enein stands in opposition to around 25,000 workers at Cleopatra factories nationwide," worker Ahmed Roshdi told Ahram Online. "He insists on reneging on his promises to distribute profit shares to the workers."
Roshdi, in his mid-30s, said he had only received 15 days of profit shares, even though he was owed for 180 days. He added that Abul-Enein had also refused to pay workers an LE300/month risk allowance.
Articles 40 and 41 of Egypt's corporate law stipulate that workers are entitled to 10 per cent of distributable company profits, pending approval from shareholders. Accordingly, the ceramics producer is not legally bound to pay profit shares every year, even in the event that the company realises profits.
In March, around 4,000 of the 6,000 workers employed at the Cleopatra Ceramics factory in Ain Sokhna launched a strike to demand salary increases, bonus payments and a share of company profits.
"Abul-Enein promised to pay us our profit shares by 20 June, but we received nothing," according to one demonstrating worker.
In May, factory operations were suspended for 12 days after company management stopped providing free transportation for workers. Employees accused Abul-Einein of halting the service to punish them for demanding pay raises and benefits, stressing that public transport costs represented a major strain on their salaries.
In response, around 4,000 factory employees staged a sit-in before the Suez governor's office to protest the company's actions.
According to protester Mahmoud Qenawi, Abul-Einein and other NDP stalwarts were purposely mistreating workers with the aim of instigating strikes and demonstrations in hopes of hindering the newly-inaugurated Morsi administration.
"They are directing the counter-revolution," he said. "They intentionally failed to give us our financial rights to bring us down to the street in hopes of hampering the new president from doing his work."
Qenawi, who says he was once a member of the NDP but who resigned in the early 1990s, added: "I was a member once, so I know how they think and operate."
Established in 1983, Cleopatra Ceramics claims to have a presence in more than 100 countries. Its Ain Sokhna factory represents one of the largest ceramics plants in the Middle East.
Following last year's Tahrir Square uprising, firm chairman Abul-Einein was summoned for questioning in a number of corruption cases. No charges, however, were ever filed against him.
Notably, on Thursday, Egyptian prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud issued a travel ban on Abul-Enein, Egypt's state news agency MENA reported the same day. Abul-Enein faces charges of unjustly sacking factory workers and failing to pay them their rightful salaries.