A dream for millions of Egyptian workers: A minimum wage

Bassem Abo Alabass, Friday 27 Jul 2012

Despite repeated promises by officials to implement a national minimum wage since the 2011 uprising, many workers are still waiting for a living wage and are suspicious of government promises

Banner reads "A salary that lasts all month", as Egyptian workers demonstrate for better wages (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

Egyptian workers will receive a minimum wage of LE1200 ($200) per month within three years as part of President Morsi's Renaissance Project, according to Ayman Sadeq, who was a Freedom and Justice Party member in the now-dissolved parliament.

However, this is not the first time Egyptian workers in both the public and private sectors have been promised a living wage.

Egypt's interim government granted public servants a monthly minimum wage of LE700 ($120), in June 2011.

The minimum wage came into effect at the start of July, the beginning of the 2011-2012 financial year, but only permanent government workers benefited, not workers at state-owned companies or temporary workers.

Yasser Abdel-Khalek, a worker at a state-owned electricity company in Cairo, was initially very happy when he heard about the minimum wage and thought he would receive the same privileges as his colleagues at other state-owned companies and the ministry of electricity.

"But now I know the pledges are hot air and will not be implemented," Yasser said.

All the workers who receive at least LE700 on paper have deductions made for pensions, insurance and tax, therefore their take-home pay is significantly less.

Wage structures should be rebuilt throughout the public sector so all new permanent public employees are granted the set minimum wage regardless of previous work experience or educational attainment, Sadeq said.

In March 2012, more than half a million government employees on temporary contracts were promised the LE700 minimum wage by Safwat El-Nahass, head of the Central Agency for Organisation and Administration (CAOA), the government body charged with organising the public administration.


Sadeq, who was a member of parliament's planning and budget committee, blamed the delay in implementing a private sector minimum wage on the "inactive" National Council for Wages (NCW).

In 2011, private sector workers were promised an ‘emergency allowance’ if their pre-tax salary – not their take-home salary – failed to reach the LE700 minimum.

"The NCW did nothing on the minimum wage and what it proposed for the private sector wasn't accepted by workers or businessmen," Sadeq told Ahram Online.

"We finished our work in October by agreeing to a minimum wage for private sector workers, but I don’t think business owners implemented it," the NCW's Amena Shafiq told Ahram Online.

Egypt's parliament should have discussed this issue instead of being occupied with trivial debates about conditional divorce laws, Shafiq added.

"The delay in implementing the minimum wage is all about Egypt's deteriorating economic conditions and lack of resources. Even I don't know how the government gets the money to pay its workers," said Adel-Rahman Kheir another NCW member.

The minimum wage issue is being dealt with by governmental and private bodies on an ad hoc basis, Kheir said. With temporary bonuses and wage increases being issued when workers voice discontent in order to silence calls for a national minimum and maximum wage.

"The NCW is not working at this moment, maybe we will hold fresh meetings after a new government is in place," Kheir added.

Egypt has around 5.8 million people working for the public administration, a figure that might climb to 6.3 million if temporary workers are finally granted tenure. Around 19 million people work in the private sector, according to the official figures.

Egypt statistics body CAPMAS stated in January that quarter of Egyptians are living in poverty.

CAPMAS defines the poor as those whose per person spending falls below LE3,076 ($500) per year, or LE265 ($43.9) per month.

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