CAIRO: Non-teaching staff within the Ministry of Education protested Monday on the steps of the Journalists’ Syndicate against the ministry’s decision to deny them a 50 percent pay increase.
Holding up banners reading “We demand a decent wage and equality and “A minimum wage is the right of all, members of the committee for the defense of the rights of administrative staff and workers within the Ministry of Education reiterated their demands for parity with teaching staff.
Monday’s protest is the fourth protest by administrative workers since the formation of the committee.
Fathy Abdel Fattah, an administrative worker from Suez and one of the founders of the committee told Daily News Egypt that administrative workers from Mahalla who had been planning to attend the protest had allegedly been prevented from leaving Mahalla by security bodies.
The committee was founded in July 2007 after a promise by the Ministry of Education that administrative staff would receive a 50 percent pay increase was subsequently retracted by the Finance Minister.
“The Finance Minister claims that administrative staff in not entitled to a pay increase because we receive an examinations bonus equivalent to a pay rise, Atef Hassan Mohamed from the governorate of Suez told Daily News Egypt.
This bonus is a sum given to administrative staff for the performance of examinations-related administrative tasks.
“But it isn’t something we can rely on. It’s not paid if we’re sick for example. It’s incorrect to classify it a fixed part of our wage, Mohamed continued.
Mohamed, who has four children, told Daily News Egypt that after 20 years of employment as an administrative employee he earns LE 360 per month.
“We live in a remote area and the children have to take the school bus every day. This alone costs me LE 150 a month. On top of that I have to pay for their private tuition, Mohamed told Daily News Egypt.
“How do I make ends meet? I have to work a second job in the evenings to try and make a bit of extra cash. Of course I’ve thought of leaving my job but where could I go? What alternatives do I have? he continued.
Administrative staff allege that their union has failed to back them.
During a press conference last week, Abdel Fattah told Daily News Egypt, “We have completely discounted the syndicate and in fact consider ourselves as not having a syndicate.
Abdel Fattah told Daily News Egypt that after the committee began protest action he received a letter, in April, from the Ministry of Education, which he showed to Daily News Egypt.
The letter refers to a 2003 decree issued by the Prime Minister which bans strikes by workers employed in “vital and strategic installations.
“Please respect the ban on strikes and on calling for strikes in educational facilities, the letter says.
Abdel Fattah also received a letter from the Minister of State for Administrative Development which sets out “the legal framework surrounding the right to strike in public facilities.
The letter states that public sector employees who violate the injunction not to strike contained in Article 124 of the Penal Code risk between three to six months imprisonment.
The letter references two International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions ratified by Egypt on the right to organize and the right to collective bargaining, both of which state that its provisions do not apply to those working in the public sector.
However, ILO bodies such as the Committee on Freedom of Association define public sector employees narrowly, and explicitly exclude those working within the educational sector from the list of public sector workers providing vital services whose right to strike is subject to conditions.
During a seminar held immediately after the protest on workers’ conditions in the first half of 2008, lawyer Khaled Ali of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center underlined the lawfulness of strike action.
Ali is currently arguing a case before the State Council brought by lobby group Doctors Without Rights which they hope will establish the legitimacy of strike action in the public sector.
Ali said during the seminar that there had been 273 strikes in Egypt in the period between January and May 2008.
“We had feared that the events of April 6 in Mahalla, when over 600 people were detained and there was a violent crackdown on those involved in the uprising, would have the effect of frightening workers, Ali said.
“In fact this hasn’t been the case at all. While it is claimed that political forces are responsible for instigating strikes, it is in fact Hosni Mubarak, Gamal Mubarak and Ahmed Nazif who are responsible for this action: as long as inhumane social policies are implemented, strikes will continue, he said.