CAIRO: Workers currently on strike at the Tanta Flax and Oil Company have accused the factory’s administration of having a hand in the fire that blazed on Thursday afternoon inside the factory where the sit-in is taking place.
“The workers consider the company their home [and] no one would think of vandalizing it, Safwat Michel, who acts as spokesperson for the workers, told Daily News Egypt. “When the factory was first built in 1944, there were only three, now there are 10 factories. We, the workers, have built the rest. How could we harm our home?
The fire sprouted in an area of 2.5 acres towards the end of the factory, near extremely flammable materials. “The fire was surely deliberate as the stakes were burned from the top in various areas, Michel added.
The fire blazed between around 1 pm and 2 pm and was finally put out by 10 fire trucks. Unlike other reports, Michel confirmed that no one was injured as a result.
The incident highlights the ongoing struggle facing the workers who entered their second month of the sit-in at the company. This is not the first time they have gone on strike, however. Once a year since 2005, the workers have held short demonstrations. But things are changing.
“Those were spontaneous protests, we would yell our demands, security would arrive to calm people down with promises and nothing would happened afterwards, Michel revealed.
The current strike took six months of preparation, the workers admit.
‘The situation is stagnant as those who sold the company are still in power, added Michel.
“We thought that after five days things would be solved, he continued, alluding to the idea that the strike would have not lasted this long. It began on May 31 and has been going strong ever since.
Another man who claimed to be a worker with the security to vet journalists and visitors echoed this sentiment.
“We want people to see what is going on in there because it is important for all to see the horrible situation we are in, said Nasser Osman.
The workers are demanding the return of nine workers who were fired, as well as an increase in food allowance as most other companies in Egypt have done.
It is becoming obvious to many that foreign, and especially Saudi investors, have their own agenda, the workers claim. “They could be after the land, Michele added.
The workers have accused the administration of deliberately driving the factory to a loss. Egyptian law states, however, that workers would get an incentives package according to the year’s profit, but this has not occurred. Michel said that since the declaration of their legal strike, the company started threatening them if they go on with the planned strike, the consequences would be dire.
According to the workers, Abdullah Al Kaeky, a Saudi investor who bought the company for much less than its worth, appears not willing to acquiesce to the workers’ demands. The company lies on 74 acres of land and is home to 10 different factories. Other company property includes four flats in downtown Cairo, Alexandria and two in Tanta, as well as a fleets of cars and trucks.
“The apartments alone are worth millions, Michel said.
The Saudi investor bought the company with for LE 83 million, including one factory that is worth LE 60 million alone, Michel revealed.
“The CEO of the company threatened us directly, saying that anyone who will be a part of the strike will pay the price, even those who would just stand there without participating, the spokesman said.
The workers were asked to sign a vacation leave for the duration of the scheduled five-day strike. After the initial five days passed, no one from the company tried to talk to the workers or hear their demands, declaring there would be no negotiations.
Later, the workers decided to escalate and protest in front of the People’s Assembly in Cairo, where they pleaded for the president’s direct intervention. The workers chanted for President Hosni Mubarak’s promises of protecting worker’s right. With no apparent results, the workers protested in front of the Journalists’ Syndicate in late June.
When nothing came out of the Cairo demonstrations, the workers returned to Tanta to continue their sit-in. But the company has become savvier, allegedly planting “spies inside the strikers’ ranks.
“The company has acknowledged planting spies among the workers. They told us they have 150 ‘dogs’ working for them, Michel said, leaving many to wonder what the future holds for the workers in Tanta.
“We will continue striking even if the situation turns into another Mahala, Michel said, referring to last year’s protest in the Delta that left one dead and many injured after police forces assaulted the crowds of demonstrators.
No representatives from the factory’s administration could be reached for comment at time of press.