SHIBIN AL-KOM: Although strikes ended last week at the textile factory in Shibin Al-Kom, workers there on Tuesday continued to express concern over their working conditions and looming changes as a private, foreign-financed company is set to take over today.
The new owner, Andorama, which runs factories in India, bought a majority stake in the state-owned Shibin Al-Kom Spinning and Weaving Factory before large labor protests began there weeks ago.
Factory sources said that the 4,000 to 5,000-man strong strike ended on Feb. 8 when a disputed bonus was finally delivered to the workers. A new contract was also given to the workers’ representative with the financial details of the factory’s sale.
Seventy percent of the profits are to go to Andorama, 12 percent are the workers’ profit share, and 18 percent goes to the Egyptian government.
Many employees at the factory told The Daily Star Egypt that returning to work did not solve other lingering labor issues, nor did it diminish anxiety over potential changes at the plant with Andorama’s takeover.
In large mills housing rows of industrial spinning machines, workers discussed their salaries – LE 8 a day paid monthly for an eight-hour day – their suspicion over foreign, privatized ownership of the factory and the fear of job cuts.
Their biggest fear is that Andorama plans to reduce the number of workers per spinning machine from two or three to one.
“It’s not just about the 12 percent, it’s the treatment as well, said Ashraf, a 19-year employee who refused to give his last name or age for fear of reprisal.
He cited a work day without breaks and the fact that workers pay 75 percent of the cost of monthly health insurance.
“If they treat us well, he said, referring to the new Indian owners, “we’ll hold them above our heads. If they neglect our rights, we will step on them.
Ashraf led The Daily Star Egypt reporters into the factory to inspect Mill 6, where the imminent down-sizing was being tested.
At green metal spinning machines, each approximately 25 meters long, one worker moved quickly down rows of mechanical spools, about 50 on each machine.
“One man alone can’t work one machine, said Abdel Gawad, 29, a supervisor who had been working at the factory for five years. “If you consider the size of the machine, it’s impossible.
“They say our profit share is 12 percent now, he said, “but on Thursday we’ll see if the new contracts say the same thing.
Other workers expressed anxiety over wages as well as their insecurity and suspicion over the sale of the factory.
“If the factory’s for sale, there must be something wrong with it, said Abdullah Ali Mohammad, 26, an 11-year employee who echoed the skepticism of other workers.
The factory Shibin Al-Kom had been government-owned since it opened in 1962.
Egypt began a series of economic reforms – driven by a privatization program to increase foreign investments – following a $327 million (LE 1.8 billion) loan from the International Monetary Fund in 1991.
Some economists see privatization as beneficial to workers, since it attracts greater investment from abroad as well as eliminates a source of corruption and financial mismanagement.
The IMF claims that its policies could play an important role in the flow of remittances to Egypt.
However, to workers in Shibin Al-Kom, privatization does not carry that benevolent message advocated by the IMF and the global market economy. Outside the factory, a pool of workers confirmed to The Daily Star Egypt that no changes have been made, our wages are to stay the same .
Workers’ rights, job treatment and pay are more immediate and tangible, according to workers there, than any opinion on globalization.
“It’s not the new company they’re concerned with, it’s how it will treat them, one worker said. “But, thank God, right now no one is complaining, said Rageb Soltan, head of security at the factory.
Khatab Abdel Rahim, 40, a stationary vendor, stood on the curb of the main road outside the factory in mid-afternoon. The road was getting a new layer of asphalt and a siren rang signaling the start of the 3 pm shift.
“Everyone got what was owned to them, he said of the strikes. “On Thursday the new agenda starts, but workers are unaware of the new changes that will take place, he continued, warning that “protests could still go on.