CAIRO: Nearly 200 railway safety technicians are threatening to start a hunger strike to express their growing dissatisfaction with wages and working conditions.
They began a protest Wednesday in Cairo’s Ramsis Railway Station, the hub of the city’s railway network, assembling in the central ticket hall and carrying banners that read “Safety technicians refuse to be scapegoats of senior employees.
The 50 or so technicians maintaining the protest told Daily News Egypt that they refuse to bear responsibility for any future railway accidents of the type which occurred in 2002 when a cooking gas cylinder being used on a passenger train burst into flames, causing a fire that killed 383 people.
“Our job description says that we’re supposed to check fire extinguishers, brakes, electricity . everything. But when I find a fault and note it in a report for the station master, he ignores it. As I speak to him I’d hear the whistle signalling the train to move, one technician said.
The workers also complained that technicians are asked to do too much, again compromising safety: “One technician is on a train made up of 17 carriages. How can he be expected to check everything properly? It’s impossible.
Technicians say that mismanagement and corruption within the Egyptian National Railway Department of Industrial Safety has made it impossible for them to do their jobs.
They allege that the appointment of individuals with no expertise or background in industrial safety to the department’s upper echelons has led to poor management, a problem made worse, they claim, by the failure of the department’s administration to promote suitably-qualified technicians to administrative positions.
They give an example of an incident which happened six months ago.
A technician on a train going from Benha to Cairo instructed a man sitting in a first class air-conditioned compartment to extinguish his cigarette. The man filed a complaint, which ironically led to a written order banning technicians from inspecting air-conditioned carriages.
While technicians are supposed to be receiving a monthly wage of LE 300, the ones at the protest told Daily News Egypt that their salaries were regularly docked for spurious reasons.
One technician said that last month he was paid LE 78. Ismail Farhaan, a father of four from Assiut, claims that he has not been paid since 2005.
“The Minister of Transport promised a wage increase years ago, but we haven’t seen any money, a worker told Daily News Egypt. “We will strike until we receive all the rights which go with our job, he added.
The workers are calling for a written decree reducing their role to inspecting equipment in workshops rather than examining trains while on board because of the impossibility of doing this adequately, and the huge responsibility attached to it.
The technicians warned that nearly all trains fail safety tests apart from sleeper trains, which are well-maintained because they are used by foreigners.
When Daily News Egypt asked a technician what he would say to someone planning to travel by train, he said, “I would tell them absolutely not to.
In a telephone interview conducted after this Daily News Egypt reporter had left Ramsis station, technician Ahmed Abdel Karim said that approximately ten policemen had used force in an attempt to disperse the protestors.
“They started hitting us but stopped when they saw journalists watching and when they saw that we were telephoning journalists. They’ve sprayed the floor with water to try and stop us from sitting down, but we’re not moving, he said.