CAIRO: Workers from the Tanta Flax and Oils Company vowed to continue their sit-in yesterday until the government responds to their demands.
At time of press there were reports that clashes broke out between workers and police officers surrounding the sit-in, and that two workers, Hisham El-Owkal and Ahmed El-Waheery were briefly detained for ten minutes before being released.
According to journalist Jano Charbel, three activists, Khaled El-Sayyed, Mohamed Nagui and Saif Sameh were detained during the clashes and held in a police van. They had not been released by press time.
“They started hitting us when we tried to put up tents, Othman told Daily News Egypt by telephone.
Othman was one of roughly 350 workers from the Delta-based factory who began a sit-in outside Cairo’s Cabinet building on Monday.
“We’re calling on President Mubarak to intervene. We’ve been on the streets now for nine months, worker Gamal Othman said, before the clashes broke out.
The men, who have been sleeping on donated blankets on the pavement opposite Cabinet, are staging the protest as part of a long battle with the Saudi investor, Abdellah El-Kahky, who bought the formerly public sector company in 2005.
Last year workers launched a five-month strike for six demands including the reinstatement of nine workers who they say were unfairly dismissed; payment of an annual pay raise amounting to seven percent and increase of meal allowance from LE 32 to LE 90, in parity with workers in the public sector.
The head of the workers’ union committee was among those who lost their jobs.
An agreement between manpower minister Aisha Abdel-Hady, Said El-Gohary, head of the General Union of Textile Workers, and Mohamed El-Sehy who represented the Saudi investor was eventually reached in November.
“They killed the workers with this agreement, Othman told Daily News Egypt.
“The only thing they agreed to was an increase in the meal allowance, and only to LE 60.
Hassan Taher Ibrahim, one of the protesting workers, has been employed by the Tanta Flax and Oils Company for 32 years, and earns LE 800 per month.
“I was happy working with the company when it was government-owned. But ever since it was taken over they’ve destroyed the company and made our lives hell, Ibrahim said.
Workers began their latest strike on Dec. 11, 2009. Othman says that machines have gradually been removed from the factory and that raw supplies have not been renewed. As a result, Othman explained, workers suspect that El-Kahky plans to sell off the factory’s land.
“El-Kahky bought the company for LE 79 million. Its actual worth is LE 650 million. It’s quite clear that he has no interest in running the company. He intends to sell it.
Daily News Egypt asked Othman why, if the Saudi investor plans to sell the company, he has not yet done so.
“Firstly, because legally he had to wait three years before he could do so and secondly there’s a clause in the sale contract between him and the government which obliges him to protect workers. He can’t just close it down – what would happen to us?
Workers moved the strike to the Cabinet building after discovering that they would not be paid January’s salaries.
“They justified this by saying that we hadn’t worked so why should we be paid – but we were on strike, Othman said.
Workers are now demanding that the company either run the factory properly or make them redundant with the severance payment the company is legally obliged to pay.
Lawyer Haitham Mohamedein explained that when a private sector company is making a loss and is forced to close, employers are obliged to pay each worker the equivalent of four months pay for every year worked.
“Tanta are offering each worker LE 25,000. This is much less than what they are legally obliged to pay given that most of these workers have been employed for many years, Mohamedein explained.