MENUFIYA/CAIRO: A strike at the Indorama textiles factory entered its seventh day on Wednesday, amidst allegations by workers of mismanagement and violations of their rights.
The factory s workforce of roughly 4,000 workers downed tools on Thursday afternoon in protest at Indorama chairman Narindra Malbany s refusal to grant them an annual bonus paid in March each year.
“At the beginning of February 2009 the company sent out a letter saying that as a result of the global economic crisis the company will not be able to pay the annual 288-day bonus, electrical engineer Ehab Shalaby told Daily News Egypt.
“The bonus is determined according to seniority and experience and ranges between LE 100 and LE 3,000. It s perhaps not a huge amount but we wait all year for this bonus. It amounts to a total of roughly LE 10 million.
“Indorama claim that there s no money to pay the bonus but meanwhile 249 workers have been given early retirement pay-offs which amounted to roughly LE 8 million: why were these workers made to leave, and this amount paid?
Based in the Delta town of Shibeen El-Koum, Menufiya, the factory – formerly state-owned -was put up for auction in 2006 as part of the privatization scheme initiated in the 1990s.
“Indorama claim that there’s no money to pay the bonus but meanwhile 249 workers have been given early retirement pay-offs, which amounted to roughly LE 8 million: why were these workers made to leave, and this amount paid?
Based in the Delta town of Shibeen El-Koum, Menufiya, the factory – formerly state-owned – was put up for auction in 2006 as part of the privatization scheme initiated in the 1990s.
It was bought by Indorama, an Indonesian-based company with interests in six countries including Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.
Ibrahim Youness, head of the factory’s trade union committee, explained that Article 10 of the contract signed between Indorama and the holding company obliges Indorama to respect the terms of employment, salaries and incentive payments enjoyed by workers prior to privatization.
“We met the Indian administration at the end of January, after which we sent them a memo demanding that they pay us the bonus as laid down in the contract. Faxes have been sent by Manpower Minister Aisha Abdel Hady and the General Trade Union of Textile Workers demanding that the bonus be paid, but to no avail, Youness said.
A letter sent by Youness to the company’s administration on March 4 warns that workers are at “breaking point and liable to “explode at any moment because of the company’s refusal to pay out the bonus.
Workers began the strike and sit-in the next day. On Tuesday, hundreds of workers had congregated outside one of the factory’s administrative building underneath placards declaring their backing of the trade union committee and a hanging effigy bearing the inscription, “Hellbound liar Ali El-Dessouqy.
El-Dessouqy, the factory head of legal affairs, had appeared on TV program “90 Minutes the previous evening and described the striking workers as “thugs.
Shalaby alleges that Dessouqy’s comments are just the latest in a series of incidents “intended to provoke workers. He is quick to point out that prior to privatization there had been no industrial action within the factory; since then, 95 strikes and protests have occurred.
Shalaby cites differential treatment between the company’s Indian employees – who are paid in dollars and provided with free accommodation – and Egyptian workers as an example of this provocation.
“The company had 36 buses to transport workers. When Malbany took over he didn’t maintain these buses, or add to them, while providing Indian workers with company cars to the value of around LE 2 million as well as air-conditioned offices. Meanwhile, 16 of the buses no longer work, Shalaby said.
Workers claim that these conditions, the fact that they “don’t get any of their rights without a fight, is aimed at driving them out and replacing them with workers on temporary contracts – who are entitled to fewer economic benefits and cheaper to employ.
Shalaby says that Indorama currently employs between 700 and 800 temporary contract workers.
Advertisements for temporary positions within the factory, which went up at the same time as workers were being forced out on early retirement, confirm, workers say, that the company’s financial difficulties are due to mismanagement rather than global economic conditions.
Shalaby pointed to machine sales as an example of this. He claims that Indorama’s managing director Amit Lohia sold functioning machines and took out to loans to replace them with inferior, second-hand machines bought from a company in which he is a partner.
Bought for around LE 100,000, Shalaby says that the machines were then sold as scrap for LE 16,000.
In Indorama’s Maadi office, Administrative Manager General Emad Abdel Khaliq rebutted the suggestion that machines have been bought only to be sold as scrap saying, “you mean to say that I would buy the machines, and pay for them to shipped by sea, and get German technicians over for a month to install them and then sell it for scrap? Is that logical?
The administrative manager says he does not, however, know where the machines were bought from.
He also denies that Indorama’s administration have left buses to break down, claiming that it is mechanics themselves who refused to maintain them and that the company has been forced to use a private bus company to transport workers.
As for the issue at the center of the strike, Abdel Khaliq says that despite assertions to the contrary from the Minister of Manpower herself, Indorama is not obliged to pay the yearly bonus because it is making a loss. “If you were making the loss, how would you pay? he asked.
Abdel Khaliq says that the strike is being conducted illegally.
“Work, and let the trade union committee ask for your rights. Prove that you are productive rather than putting a blanket out on the street and saying that you’re not going to work – that’s the law of the jungle. How can you ask me for more money when you don’t want to work?
Abdel Khaliq claims that workers’ wages have been doubled despite the losses the company is suffering – a claim which Shalaby denies.
And why is the company making a loss? Abdel Khaliq says that the problem is simple: workers don’t want to work.
“In the past Shibeen El-Koum was famous all over the world; someone taking it over while it was making a loss was bound to turn it around with this reputation. Why? Because of the quality. It has the best yarn in the world. Since we took over it’s become the worst. Why? Because the workers don’t want to work. They say that the government sold them out, Abdel Khaliq said.
“Why don’t they work like they did while the factory was government-owned? Because the government has a whip – if a worker did anything a call was made to the police and they came and took him.
“The private sector meanwhile is chaos. We sent yarn to Spain and it was returned because it was of such poor quality. Who made this yarn which sells for a fourth of what it should sell for? Is it not the worker? If it’s bad quality why’s isn’t he doing anything about it?
Abdel Khaliq claims that striking workers are “just hanging out and that “only 10 percent of workers are actually involved in the strike.
“Workers still think that they’re working in the government sector: all they say is ‘give me’. We’ve doubled wages and tripled the food allowance.
Why aren’t they happy? Because of their culture. Freedom without culture results in thuggery.