CAIRO: Around 200 tunnel workers congregated in Opera Square on Sunday to protest against their working conditions and temporary contracts.
The tunnel workers, employed in various departments of Cairo’s Al-Azhar tunnel that connects Downtown’s Opera Square to Salah Salem Street, are demanding that they be appointed as permanent employees in fixed positions.
The tunnel falls under the jurisdiction of the National Authority for Tunnels. Currently, 200 of the 250 workers are on temporary government contracts. However, according to their legal statutes, after three years’ work an employee should automatically be put on a permanent contract. Many of the protesters have been working in the tunnels for over four years.
“Most of us are on temporary contracts of six months, and every six months they renew the contracts, but this is illegal, Mohamed Saad, a 30-year-old tunnel worker told Daily News Egypt. “A few years ago a new law stipulated that all those who have been working in a company for more than three years should be appointed. But only about 50 of 200 people have been awarded permanent contracts.
“We’ve tried complaining to Ata Al-Sharifi, the head of the National Authority for Tunnels, but it was no good. We are sure he has been taking the extra money that would be used for fixed positions and giving it to his personal contacts. It’s not as if there isn’t the money, we have a huge budget of LE 12 million. They used to employ foreign firms who were far more expensive, so now they are using us to save money.
Daily News Egypt was unable to reach Al-Sharifi for comment.
However, although there are financial benefits to being awarded a permanent contract, monetary gripes made up only a portion of the workers’ protest.
“It’s not just about the money, an appointment gives you rights that every worker should have, explained Hani Fathy, 26, who has been working in the tunnels for five years. “These include complete health insurance, social insurance and paid holidays.
Health insurance was a main focus of the employees’ protest, with many having already sustained injuries on the job.
“I was electrocuted about two years ago at a very high voltage, said Saad, showing an unmistakable scar on his left hand. “I had to spend some time in hospital, but after the first week they started to deduct money from my salary. They said I had brought it on myself. I still can’t move my hand properly; the nerves are in a mess.
When asked whether they had taken the issue up directly with Al-Sharifi, workers replied, “His answer to us was highly provocative: he threatened to close the tunnel entirely, which is just irresponsible.
Sayid Ali Amran, who works in the tunnels’ services department, which included cleaning the tunnel wall, told Daily News Egypt, “The Minister of Environment has made several reports on the damaging effects the carbon has on our health. Results showed that it is dangerous to spend more than one hour a day in those tunnels. We spend eight hours a day in them.
The workers, who congregated peacefully to launch their campaign to the public and the media, were angered by the treatment they received from security.
“This is a peaceful protest, and yet they have put metal railings around us to keep us in, as if we are in a prison. All we want is the protection of the president, and the application of his electoral program which guarantees us fixed contracts.
The workers, after appearing on Dream TV’s “El Ashera Masaan daily show decided to spend Sunday night on the street to raise media awareness and alert the public to their peaceful protest.