Mansoura-Espana worker dismissal reignites meltdown fears

Michaela Singer
6 Min Read

CAIRO: Two hundred and fifty workers at the Mansoura-Espana garments factory in Talkha demonstrated for a second day against the dismissal of colleague Mohsen El-Shae’r.

El-Shae’r, 34, was given his marching orders after “speaking to the papers about proposed changes to working regulations in the factory.

“I was called into the office where I was taken to task for giving quotes to newspapers, such as Al-Dostour, concerning conditions in the factory, and was told I was fired.

By law, employees can only be fired after an investigation, which must be conducted in the presence of a member of the Labor Union board.

El-Shae’r, who has worked at the factory for 12 years, made an official complaint to the Ministry of Manpower and Immigration on Saturday, June 14.

“The company officials were ordered by the Ministry of Manpower and Immigration to retract my dismissal, as I had done nothing contrary to the law. However, they refused, saying they are prepared to go to court to fight it out.

Yesterday, workers demonstrated outside the factory to pressure officials to backtrack on their decision. During a visit from United Bank representative Said Galal, it came to light that there was ambiguity as to the reasoning underpinning the dismissal.

United Bank is the holding company of Mansoura-Espana.

According to El-Shae’r, this points to attempts to stifle the demands of activist workers. “I spoke to Galal yesterday, he said. “He didn’t know who I was and began to speak about ‘Mohsen El-Shae’r’ with apparent familiarity. Having claimed to know me personally, he said the reason I had been sacked was for agitating during a general meeting held on June 1. But this was not the reason I was given at my dismissal.

The general meeting on June 1 took place to announce that the factory had been sold and will be taken over by executive and Member of Parliament Youssri El-Ghazali. However, a change to the working hours was also announced: current hours of 8 am to 3:30 pm were due to be changed to 8 am to 5:30 pm. A pay raise was not included.

“I strongly objected to these changes in the meeting, explained El-Shae’r, “however, it is within my right to do so, not to mention the fact that 80 percent of workers are women, who have domestic duties and cannot practically work until 5:30 pm.

The plans to alter working hours were subsequently reversed when workers filed an official complaint to the Labor Union. Factory officials were told to either revoke the decision or face a fine.

El-Shae’r traveled to Cairo Monday June 16 to meet with Nahed El-Ashry from the Manpower and Immigration Ministry, and company representatives from United Bank Badawi Hassanein and Mustafa Azouza.

Neither Hassanein nor Azouza showed up. It was confirmed that should they fail to attend an appointment with the workers in the next two weeks, the matter will be passed on to Manpower Minister Aisha Abdel Hadi.

However, the current demonstrations are not the only show of worker activism seen in the Mansoura-Espana factory in recent years.

El-Shae’r was one of six workers who had their dismissal revoked after the Mansour-Espana workers ‘spring offensive’ of 2007, where workers staged a long sit-in to secure wages and allowances.

According to employees and social activists, factory officials have failed to pay Labor Day allowances and annual index-linked pay rises since 1999. By spring 2007, they were failing to pay even the basic salary, which led works to stage a sit-in occupying the factory in April 2007.

Officials were claiming that the factory was sustaining losses and was under review to be liquidated.

The sit-in won the promise of factory owners that it would not be liquidated. In a General Assembly meeting for shareholders held on July 1, 2007, the holding company drastically cut share prices in what workers claim to be preparations for a quick sell.

But decisions of the July General Assembly were declared null and void by the Minister of Investment, after minority shareholders, who had not been informed of the meeting, raised court cases against Egypt United Bank on the basis that the July Assembly had to be held in Talkha to be considered valid.

Despite past victories, however, employees fear the worst.

“Youssri El-Ghazali is due to take over the official running of the bank in two weeks, said El-Shae’r. “He has stated that the ongoing case of unpaid bonuses and pay rises will not be backdated, as they do not concern him and his management.

In the 2007 June agreement, under which employees relaxed their occupation of the factory, officials promised that in case the factory is sold, future management would not cut workers salaries.

Employees were also given allowances for the year of 2006-2007. Yet they are still waiting for action from the Manpower Ministry to force factory officials and United Bank to award wages from 1999-2005; a prospect that seems ever more distant with the factory hand-over imminent.

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