CAIRO: Employees of the Omar Effendi department store have launched another strike, a month after a three-day sit-in they staged in protest at alleged wage discrimination between them and recently-employed staff.
“The government made us believe that the investor would put money into the company, and create new jobs . that was all just fine talk, Omar Effendi salesman Ahmed Khamis told Daily News Egypt outside the company s downtown Cairo headquarters, where some 80 employees were protesting.
“The government sold Omar Effendi for nothing. But I don t care how much it was sold for. It s not my problem. All I care about is running my home and feeding my kids. I just want my wage, Khamis continued.
Nadia, who has worked in the company s accounting department for 27 years, says that she earns LE 500. Workers say that her wage is representative of the salary given to senior workers who have been with the company before its 2007 sell-off to Saudi Arabian company Anwal.
The government retains a 10 percent stake in the company.
Khamis alleges that Anwal are in breach of the obligations laid down in the sale contract.
Under article 12 of this contract Anwal agreed not to make redundant more than 600 workers wishing to take early retirement within the three years following the sale.
Workers who are let go are entitled to compensation equivalent to three months salary for each year of service.
“They completely ignored this. Around 2,800 workers have been let go: 1,200 in May 2007 and about 2,300 in September 2007. One of these workers was my wife, Khamis said.
Khamis says that his wife, Lobna Abdel-Aziz, hasn’t taken “a penny of the LE 27,252 she is entitled to under the early retirement agreement.
Furthermore, he says, temporary workers employed at the time of the sell-off “have all been let go despite the fact that under the sell-off agreement Anwal was obliged to renew their contracts.
Khamis and other salesmen said that their wages have been hit hardest by the steep decrease in commissions they receive on sales, a result they allege, of the company’s failure to replenish supplies of stock.
“Branches aren’t being re-stocked, which affects commissions. We used to get LE 6 on each LE 1,000 worth of sales, meaning that if [LE 1.2 million] worth of sales were made annually we got about LE 600 commission a month, Khamis explained.
“I now get LE 286 in commission each month; I’ve lost about LE 314 a month.
Workers say that the stock replenishment is such a problem that they don’t even have plastic bags to give customers.
One worker showed Daily News Egypt a photocopy of a return slip which read, “product returned by customer because of a lack of plastic bags.
“Only six of the 30 branches currently open are supplied with goods. So if I work in a branch which isn’t supplied with new goods, how do I survive? What can I sell? I can’t, and as a result I lose my commission, Khamis said.
On April 30, 2009 an agreement was signed between the company and the workers. Workers were represented by head of the General Trade Union Mohamed Wahaballah and Mohamed El-Gabeely, head of the Omar Effendi trade union committee.
Under the agreement, only 400 workers will receive incentive payment increases while the rest of the “old, pre-privatization, workforce will receive an LE 75 monthly allowance for four months, from May to August.
Workers allege that neither Wahaballah nor El-Gabeely represent workers, or lobby for their interests adequately. They say that they were not consulted before the agreement was signed.
Workers also claim that workers are intimidated into not complaining about pay and conditions. One worker told Daily News Egypt that he was fired after making a complaint.
“As soon as the investor took over the company he appointed a former state security investigations officer, Khamis alleged.
“[He] is employed to put pressure on workers, and intimidate them into not airing their grievances. He has also transferred workers who talk to other branches.
Omar Effendi CFO and HR director Sherif Sabry didn’t answer Daily News Egypt’s questions, in spite of promises by his office staff that he would get back to the paper before press time.
In addition, to wage parity with newly-employed workers, Omar Effendi employees are demanding the payment of profits which they say they haven’t received.
Khamis says that workers are obliged to make the payment of profits equal to eight months of each financial year.
They are also demanding the payment of the 7 percent annual raise.
In addition to inadequately stocking Omar Effendi branches with sub-standard products, Khamis charged Anwal with “destroying the Egyptian economy.
“Omar Effendi used to have departments, one of which was the cotton department. They got rid of this, plus the carpet department and others, Khamis said.
“All the fabric in Omar Effendi is now from a Chinese company called Zola. This man [Saudi Omar Effendi owner Gamil El-Qanbeet] is destroying the Egyptian economy. Omar Effendi used to buy from [Egyptian textiles companies] Ghazl El-Mahalla, Golden Tex, Shorbagy . these factories employ thousands of families. When Omar Effendi gets its supplies from China rather than here, what then?