CAIRO: Workers and labor activists have given the government a month to implement a court ruling obliging it to set a minimum wage, or face a wave of protests.
Around 300 workers gathered outside the cabinet office on Saturday where they protested against government privatization policies and condemned the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF). Kamal Abu Eita, president of the Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Employees (URETAE), an independent trade union representing some 50,000 tax authority employees who broke-away from the ETUF, led chants describing the state-controlled institution as “a gang of thieves.
Abu Eita told Daily News Egypt that pay rise in the form of allowances or profit sharing is not an alternative to an increased basic minimum wage.
“This is a protest calling for an increase in the minimum wage because our conditions are intolerable. It doesn’t make sense for every group to ask for a meal allowance . or a share in the profits, and currently, the basic salary isn’t compatible with existing prices, Abu Eita said.
Workers’ protests have escalated in recent years as the effects of privatization policies are felt and formerly state-controlled companies are sold off. Workers in both the private and rapidly diminishing public sector frequently complain of a vast discrepancy between the wages they receive and the cost of living.
“The strikes and protests which began in 2006 forced the President of the Republic to pass a social raise of 30 percent on Labor Day in 2008, the Socialist Horizons group said in a statement distributed at the protest.
“This raise – intended to placate workers – was succeeded by a relentless wave of price hikes and did nothing to establish harmony between wages and prices, the statement continued.
Socialist Horizons listed the monthly spending of a family of four on items such as food, rent, transport and utility bills. The total comes to LE 1,200 – almost double the average monthly salary of Egypt’s blue-collar workers in sectors such as the textile industry. The minimum wage currently stands at LE 35 per month – a figure set in 1984.
Last week the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) won a court order obliging the National Wages Council established in 2003 to put in place a minimum wage in line with the cost of living.
Defining a minimum wage is one of the reasons the council was created. Seven years later however, it has yet to do so.
“The council did not change anything. It has had no function since its foundation. It is in place to satisfy us for propaganda purpose, it has had no role in raising wages at all, Abu Eita told Daily News Egypt.
During the demonstration, ECESR director Khaled Ali and others left a copy of the court order at the cabinet’s office, before emerging to announce that the government has one month to implement the order.
“We’ll give them a month. If after a month the verdict hasn’t been applied in a manner acceptable to workers, all the workers forces taking part in this protest will stage repeated protests until it is implemented, Ali told protestors.