Mill workers end strike after ministers froze controversial decree

Rania Al Malky
4 Min Read

CAIRO: Strikes by flourmill workers ended Monday following a meeting that brought together union representatives from Cairo and Giza flourmills companies, and three cabinet ministers.

Magdy Abdel Azim, deputy head of the Union Committee of the North Cairo flour mills told The Daily Star Egypt that the workers were satisfied with the decision of Minister of Social Solidarity Ali Al-Moselhi, Minister of Labor Aicha Abdel Hady and Investment Minister Mahmoud Moheiddin to freeze a decree by Al-Moselhi that would have cut workers’ monthly bonuses by 35 percent.

Over 5,000 workers at the North Cairo and South Cairo and Giza Flourmills had gone on strike last Thursday to protest Al-Moselhi’s decision to reduce the daily quota of wheat allocated to the North Cairo Mill by 429 tons and the quota to the South Cairo and Giza Flourmills by 413 tons.

“These cuts, said Adel Azim, “threatened the very existence of our mills for the benefit of the private sector. They would have minimized our role in distributing the flour, not milling it.

Workers’ bonuses, he continued, are tied to the mills’ production rate. The decision would have cost the workers two thirds of their salaries as well as their annual profit shares.

According to the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, the mill workers had temporarily ended the strike Friday night after promises by Secretary-General of the General Federation of Trade Unions Hussein Meghawer that their demands will be met by Monday at the latest, when the issue was to be discussed at the People’s Assembly.

When nothing was done, the workers resumed the strike, raising the specter of a bread crisis in Cairo and Giza.

But although the strike has ended, Abdel Azim pointed to the fact that Al-Moselhi had not backtracked completely. The decree was merely frozen.

“We will go back to the status quo until the end of June 2007, but we don’t know what will happen afterwards.

Part of the solution involved cutting wheat quotas from other mills in the Delta, which may threaten other crises in the West Delta and Damietta flourmills.

“But that is none of our concern, said Abdel Azim. “As long as our issue is solved, our workers will be satisfied. Other mills must deal with their own problems.

A Ministry of Social Solidarity representative who spoke on Dream TV’s Al Ashera Masa’an on Monday said that the decree aimed at improving the quality of baladi bread and cutting production costs.

Ahmed Al Rokeiby, Chairman of the Holding Company for Food Production, who coordinated the final agreement, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the new committee which was set up to deal with the mill workers’ grievances will also devise new strategies for public tenders.

“There will be more competition with the private sector in terms of price and quality, he said.

Pundits, however, criticized the government for failing to contain the labor crisis in Egypt and merely providing quick fixes, as opposed to comprehensive solutions.

In December 2006, more than 27,000 textile workers went on strike in Ghazl El Mahalla in defiance of their local union. The strikers won a range of concessions from management and even organized a campaign to impeach their local union representatives, threatening to form an independent union if their demands were not met.

The success of the Mahalla campaign had energized the Egyptian labor movement and inspired a string of wildcat strikes in Alexandria and throughout the Delta.

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