Labour dispute keeps Egypt's Ain Sokhna seaport paralysed

Ahram Online, Wednesday 17 Oct 2012

Shipping line shifts operations to Haifa in Israel due to ongoing labour disruptions at Egypt's Ain Sokhna Port

Egypt's Ain Sokhna Port (Photo: Al-Ahram)

Egypt's Ain Sokhna Port remained closed on Wednesday after company management failed to reach an agreement with workers over the latter's demands.

Workers at the port, which is located in the southern Suez Canal, halted operations last week, saying that management had wrongfully dismissed eight workers in early October.

"The management is flexing its muscles, sending a message that our jobs are always at risk," Ali Selim, vice head of the port workers' syndicate, told Ahram Online.

Selim did not specify when the strike might end. "The management isn't talking to us, but we won't stop until the sacked workers return to work," he said.

For its part, port management says the workers were dismissed for "instigating" strikes.

"All the dismissed workers had a record of violations, and they violated the law when they instigated the strike," one port management source told Ahram Online on condition of anonymity.

Port workers have maintained a partial strike since early September to demand the port's organisational restructuring and a review of its financial statements.

Ain Sokhna Port is managed by the Dubai-based DP World.

"Firing these workers is not illegal because they violated the Egyptian labour law," the source said, defending the company's position. He added, however, that no formal investigation had been carried out before six of the eight workers were fired.

Egypt's labour law conditionally allows workers to strike. Violations of the rules laid down for striking, however, can serve as a reason for employers to fire workers without it being considered wrongful termination.

"We didn't wrongfully dismiss anyone; we have our legal reasons and we're ready to go to court," the port source added.

Spats between port workers and management began shortly after former president Hosni Mubarak was unseated in early 2011. Most of the workers' sixteen initial demands, including payment of a 'risk allowance,' were met following intense labour actions since May of last year.

One of the workers' demands, restructuring wages, was carried out by DP World, but workers remain unsatisfied as they "did not participate in the process and its results are not satisfactory," according to Selim.

The latest closure of the port, however, which came after a month of slowing operations, appears to have had far-reaching effects. On Sunday, a shipping line that uses the port shifted its operations to the Israeli port of Haifa due to ongoing disruptions at Sokhna Port.

What's more, maritime agent workers, drivers and custom workers staged their own protest in front of the port's customs office on Monday to demand that the port – upon which their livelihoods depend – be reopened.

"This strike is causing damage to the entire country; we took matters into our own hands after officials failed to intervene to end the strike," stated the DP World source.

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