Egypt: Garment workers' sit-in reaches 26th day

Report from Egyptian blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy on a sit in of over 150, mostly female garment workers at the Mansoura-España Garments Company.

Submitted by Ed on May 17, 2007

Taken from the 3arabawy blog by Egyptian writer Hossam el-Hamalawy

I travelled Wednesday to Talkha in the Nile Delta province of Daqahliya to follow up on the Mansoura-España Garments Company workers’ sit-in, which has entered its 26th day…

More than 150 workers (out of a total labor force of 284) are still occupying their factory and sleeping on the floors, with few supplies of food, water, suffering from a continuous deterioration in their health. Three quarters of the labor force are women. They have been staying away from their families since 21 April.

On Tuesday a group of 25 women climbed to the roof of the factory, and threatened to commit suicide if the government does not intervene to end the tragic situation, where by the Al-Masrif Al-Muttahid, the owning bank which has been shamelessly exploiting their labor for a pathetic LE120 to 250 a month, has stopped paying their bonuses and May Day grants since 1999.

Workers, who live in Mansoura, neighboring villages pay from LE1 to 3 a day for transportation. This means roughly from LE30 to LE90 a month (the workers were frequently forced to work on Fridays). You add to this at least a LE1 meal a day they had to fetch, and that’s another LE30. Try to do the math, and see what’s the net income of the worker at this factory.

The workers also said they were frequently forced to work for extra hours after their normal eight-hour day, for 20 piasters an hour! Those workers who refused to stay for the extended hours, used to be punished by salary cuts.

The workers are currently living under a state of immense certainty whereby rumours have spread that the Al-Masraf Al-Muttahid Bank has sold the land of the factory to a business tycoon close to the NDP [National Democratic Party, ruling party in Egypt - Libcom ed]. The Bank officials basically have not bothered showing up at the factory since the sit in to negotiate with the workers, while the Labor Minister Aisha Abdel Hadi and the General Federation of Trade Union officials are exerting SEVERE pressures on the workers to disband the sit in and go home, promising their case “will be looked into.”

The final offer given by the Labor Ministry on 8 May to the company’s Factory Union Committee was to pay their unpaid April salary, in exchange for disbanding the sit in. The union officials accepted the minister’s offer. When they returned to the factory, the workers received their month salary, but insisted on continuing the sit in…

Yesterday, the police summoned two of the women workers in the factory to the provincial Security Directorate for interrogation. They refused to go to the police station, but they are worried the police may go after their families.

One of the company managers threatened the women workers he’ll fabricate “prostitution” charges against them, since they are sleeping in the factory under the same roof with men. The management also threatened to cut water and electricity off.

The workers vented their anger at the General Federation officials and some members of the Factory Union Committee who are “concerned with nothing but disbanding the sit-in and sending us home with promises only.” Moreover, the workers expressed great disappointment with the their constituency MP Mohamed Abdel Baqi, who belongs to the Muslim Brothers.

“He only showed up once during the previous strike, and we never saw his face again,” said 30-year-old Hanaa. “We are not receiving support from any official.”

On my way back to Cairo, I received unconfirmed news a strike broke out at the East Delta Electricity company in Mansoura. I was too exhausted honestly to U-turn and try to confirm the news. I should receive a confirmation about it today.

I received also news that a strike broke out at the privately-owned NuNu Ikhwan Textile Company in the industrial 10th of Ramadan City, with the workers demanding their salaries, unpaid for six months!!!

I’ll update this posting when I get more details…