Railway, agricultural workers protest and walk out

Protesting Egyptian Railway Authority workers, 1/3/2008

Recent weeks have seen a continuation of the workers' unrest in Egypt, with over 2,000 agricultural workers going on all-out strike at the end of February and 100 railway workers protesting their pay and conditions at the start of March.

Agricultural workers strike & sit-in
2,200 workers and employees at the Ramsis Company for Agricultural Projects and the South Valley Company for agricultural development in Toshka went on open strike Feb 27 and staged a sit-in at the companies' management. They protested against the decision by the Construction and Development Holding Company to reduce variable wages by 20% after the Investment Minister's decision to shut down the Trade Holding Company (THC) and make the two previous companies affiliated to the Construction and Development Holding Company.

The strikers affirmed they would not go back to work even if this led to the loss of crops, unless the management backed down on its new decision and improved their situation. According to them, the current management had already decreased their wages by 20% last year. The workers mentioned that the management had sent a note to Cairo calling for the dismissal of some of the workers' leaders who were only demanding their rights.

On top of their requests was to ensure the workers (80% of the total manpower is not ensured), give them annual raises like public sector workers, and provide medical insurance for them and their families or adequate health care. They pointed out that the government had reduced the wages for highly qualified workers from LE 700 to LE 550 and paid extra-labour effort (LE 150) only to workers who had made 100% efforts.

This percentage, though, is subject to the department chief's mood, as they said, and the chief often runs the company based on the workers' clan of origin. There is an ongoing conflict between workers from the north, who take on leading posts at the company, and workers from the south, who work in agriculture. Yet, most of these workers are highly qualified or are average. Moreover, 100% effort is recognized only to those having a 100% attendance rate, with no exception for ordinary leaves and absence due to illness. A year ago basic wages were reduced by 20%.

Railway workers protest
One hundred employees of the Egyptian Railway Authority from El-Wosta, Beni Suef, protested against pay and conditions March 1. The five-hour protest, which began at 10 am in El-Wosta, was intended to draw attention to a number of demands. Railway drivers are calling for the payment of withheld housing allowances and other benefits, increased pay and health insurance, which they say are received by employees based in other areas of Egypt, but not by them.

They are also calling for better maintenance of rolling stock whose neglect poses a safety risk, according to train drivers, and demand that they be based in central Cairo, rather than the Upper Egypt governorate of Assiut. “El-Wosta is 90 km from Cairo and yet we report to Assiut, which is 300 km away – it’s illogical,” train driver Ahmed Ramadan explained.
Ramadan told Daily News Egypt that further action is planned.

“We will hold another protest on March 10 if management does not respond to our demands,” he said.