CAIRO: Train drivers went on strike Tuesday in another protest at the failure of the Egyptian Railway Authority (ERA) to uphold a pay promise.
Between 200 and 300 drivers congregated on the tracks of Cairo s Ramsis Station, preventing trains from moving for four hours.
Train drivers in other parts of Egypt were also on strike, according to those in Ramsis.
Tuesday s action is the second of its kind in three months.
In November 2008, the drivers threatened to go on strike after the ERA failed to uphold its promise to pay them the kilo allowance, a payment based on the number of kilometers they travel.
That threat was only quelled by a pledge that drivers would receive a “driving allowance from December onwards, train driver Said Mahmoud told Daily News Egypt.
“ERA head Mahmoud Sami told us that he couldn t pay us the LE 0.25 kilo allowance but that we would be paid a driving allowance starting December, Mahmoud said.
“This allowance ranges between LE 75 and LE 250 per month. December came and went and we weren t paid this allowance. They promised us that a decision would be made today on Jan. 20.
ERA blue-collar workers have long complained about poor wages and working conditions: Mahmoud said that after 20 years of service he takes home LE 825 per month.
In February 2008, hundreds of train drivers staged a sit-in on the railway tracks.
In December 2007, train safety technicians held a protest during which they warned about the dire safety situation on Egyptian railways.
Technicians told Daily News Egypt during the December protest that mismanagement and corruption within the ERA Department of Industrial Safety has made it impossible for them to do their jobs.
Passengers who had been held up at Ramsis station because of the Tuesday strike expressed a mixture of anger and sympathy with drivers.
One passenger, Mohamed Mamdouh from Zagazig, explained that he had no other means of going home because he had a monthly train pass and did not have the money to use other means of transport.
He nonetheless sympathized with the drivers and their grievances.
Following negotiations between Essam Abdel Fatah, a representative from the train drivers union, the ERA and security bodies, drivers were initially promised that 50 percent of the allowance would be paid on July 1 and the rest in 2010.
This offer was refused, train drivers insisting that they be paid at least 50 percent of the allowance immediately.
Approximately an hour later, a representative of the state-controlled trade union body representing workers encouraged the train drivers to accept the offer.
He was joined by Yosry Khalifa and General Saad Zaghloul, members of the train station s police force who also urged workers to accept the offer during the chaotic negotiations held on the train tracks.
At 9:30 pm train drivers were eventually cajoled into moving off the tracks by a promise that 50 percent of the allowance would be paid on July 1, 2009, and the rest of the amount paid when funds become available – but before Jan. 1, 2010.
Further negotiations concluded with a promise that the decision would be reviewed within 10 days.
While journalist Mai Bassiouni from independent daily El-Badeel was interviewing train drivers a a policman snatched her camera out of her hands before making off with it.
It was only subsequently recovered and returned after the intervention of General Zaghloul.