Workers’ demos intensify during first half of 2011

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By Safaa Abdoun

CAIRO: During the first half of 2011, there have been 338 sit-ins, 158 strikes, 259 demonstrations and 161 protests by workers, all demanding better working conditions, according to a report by a human rights group.

Awlad Al-Ard Association for Human Rights compiled and analyzed the activities of workers during the first half of 2011, finding that 11,077 workers have been terminated from their jobs while 22 were arrested and referred to military or civil courts.

Twelve workers have committed suicide because they could not endure the hardships of their conditions, the report said.

In a section titled “Workers and the Revolution,” the report stated that ever since the privatization policies of 2004 and up until the January 25 Revolution, there have been thousands of demonstrations by workers along with numerous detentions and jail sentences.

In the last four years, more than 300,000 workers in Egypt lost their jobs.

More than 51 percent of demonstrations, strikes, protests and sit-ins in the first half of 2011 happened in the weeks before the end of February, amid an 18-day uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11.

There have been two opposing positions adopted regarding workers’ demonstrations since Mubarak’s ouster. One side claims that ongoing demonstrations affect the economy’s “production wheel,” hindering the government’s ability to rebuild. In this context, workers’ demos are described as sector protests.

The other viewpoint sees that during the past 20 years, workers have been silent amidst all the corruption taking place; but as the January 25 Revolution called for social justice, it is the time to stand up and demand their rights. Demands include minimum and maximum wages and job opportunities for the youth, the priority for which has dissipated among calls for freedom and democracy.

Another section of the report titled “Sharaf and the Step Backward” criticizes the anti-protest law which criminalizes strikes, protests, demonstrations and sit-ins that interrupt private or state-owned businesses or affect the economy in any way.

The association called it a violation of human rights, suggesting that “they should have listened to the people instead.”

The association also denounced the Cabinet’s labeling of workers’ demonstrations as “sector” demands.

The report outlines a list of recommendations for the government, including cancelling the anti-protest law, promoting freedom of syndicates and labor unions, dissolving the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, setting a minimum and maximum wage to close the gap between workers as well as hiring all temporary employees on full time contracts.

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