CAIRO: Following a meeting between Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and university presidents on Tuesday to discuss wage increases, university professors still intend to go ahead with their planned strike on March 23 to protest the PM’s rejection of calls to double professors’ basic salaries.
The local press reported that Nazif had approved increases in monthly allowances not in basic salaries.
The Egyptian University Faculty Club – a group which represents professors’ interests in the absence of a union – have consistently rejected pay increases in the form of allowances or incentive payments.
“The government appears to have adopted an approach which limits wage increases for university teaching staff to what are known as bonuses for good performance, a statement issued during a press conference held on Wednesday by the Club’s strike coordination committee reads.
“These payments will not be paid across the board to all teaching staff and, in light of the chronic current situation, will only lead to more administrative arbitrariness and control. The government is again avoiding considering an increase of the basic salaries of all members of staff including assistants, the statement continues.
Professors voted for strike action during the club’s fifth annual meeting, held in February.
Starting salaries for assistant university professors are currently just under LE 500 per month. A senior university professor makes LE 3,000 on average.
According to the daily Al-Badil, Nazif is reported to have rejected an increase of professors’ basic salary in order not to anger other sectors of society.
“We won’t change wage scales in order not to anger other sectors of society, the paper quoted him as saying during Tuesday’s meeting.
Spokesman for the strike coordinating committee Dr Tareq El-Dessouky, a professor of medicine at Mansoura University, rejected the premise of Nazif’s decision.
“All sectors of society have the right to demand their rights and call for improved wages, El-Dessouky said during Wednesday’s press conference.
Members of the strike coordination committee described the offers made by Nazif on Tuesday – a maximum monthly salary of LE 2,000 for professors, LE 1,500 for assistant professors, LE 1,250 for junior lecturers and LE 300 for researchers, with increases all in the form of special allowances – as being “a rotten panacea which will have the effect of creating divisions between teaching staff who receive bonuses, and those who don’t.
Dr Ahmed Thabet, a professor of political science at Cairo University, told Daily News Egypt that Nazif’s bonus scheme is not a viable alternative to an increase in basic salaries.
“Instead of an increase in basic salaries the prime minister is encouraging us to apply performance-related bonuses. Funding for this bonus scheme will come from aid sources such as the UN and are not long-term – the aid will eventually stop coming, Thabet said.
According to the committee, university professors are “unified in their demand for an increased basic wage with over 1,500 professors voting for strike action.
In addition to an increase in basic salary, the club is also demanding changes in pay scales of elderly professors’ salaries, an increase in government spending on universities and the construction of new universities to ease overcrowding, and the creation of a supplementary fund for teaching staff pensions.
The club is calling on all professors to join the strike, and to attend the protests which will be held on March 23 at 1 pm in front of the administrative buildings of universities throughout Egypt.
“We will continue this strike unless the government takes concrete steps to address our demands, Dr Ahmed Darrag, a professor of linguistics at Beni Suef University and a member of the strike coordinating committee said.
“There was a 50 percent increase in prices during the first three months of 2008 – our wages are nowhere near enough, he continued.
Food prices have skyrocketed in the past three years, some by as much as 122 percent, at the same time as government-subsidized bread shortages have led to fatal clashes in bakery queues, prompting the state to enlist the army to increase bread production and distribution.