Workers of Egypt's largest ceramics factory end strike, demands still unmet

Ahmed Feteha, Thursday 26 Jul 2012

After company workers in 10th of Ramadan City go back to work Wednesday, workers in Ain El-Sokhna follow suit, few expecting that their demands will ever be met

Cleopatra Ceramic
File photo: Cleopatra Ceramic workers protest in downtown Cairo in July (Photo: Ahmed Feteha)

Despite not securing any compromises from company management, Cleopatra Ceramics workers in Ain El-Sokhna reopened the commercial sector in the factory and management resumed its complementary bus service taking workers from their homes to the factory.

Management had stopped the bus service on 17 July in reaction to the workers' partial strike that prevented goods from leaving factory warehouses. Workers demanded the disbursal of profit shares for 2009, 2010 and 2011.

While the demands were unmet, workers in the huge ceramics plant returned to work after the governor of Suez promised that a solution would be reached soon.

Mohamed Hamido, an active worker in the factory, however, has little faith that a solution will materialise soon. "We have been given too many promises, none of which came true," Hamido told Ahram Online.

Cleopatra Ceramics owner, Mohamed Abul El-Enein, claims that the company, the largest tile maker in Egypt and the Middle East, realised a loss of LE140 million in 2011. Ahram Online could not verify this number as the company's financials are not publicly available.

Hamido said that after workers in the company's factories in 10th of Ramadan City unexpectedly ended their strike Wednesday, Ain El-Sokhna workers were discouraged and also returned to work. Workers in both factories have staged simultaneous strikes over the course of the past 18 months with the same demands.

Trucks are currently emptying factory stores, which held large amounts of inventory, a move which is unassuring to Hamido. "If they are taking away all the inventory, then they are expecting that we will strike and shutdown the factory once more," he explained.

A 30-year-old carpenter, married with children, Hamido receives a monthly salary of LE1,500 ($250), more than double the newly enacted minimum wage.

"Everybody wants to improve his standard of living. We received a bonus of half of our monthly salaries earlier this month," Hamido explained.

Profit sharing is a repeated problem in the workplace in Egypt. Several major workers strikes during recent years revolved around this issue.

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 company shareholders.

Abu El-Enein is the majority shareholder of Cleopatra Ceramics. Accordingly, the decision whether or not to distribute profits is legally his.

Established in 1983, Cleopatra Ceramics claims to export to more than 100 countries and employ around 20,000 people. Its Ain El-Sokhna factory, near the Suez Canal, is one of the largest ceramics plants in the Middle East.

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