Public transport workers expand Cairo strike

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CAIRO: Public transport workers and drivers in Greater Cairo went on a partial strike Wednesday demanding better pay, working conditions and buses after they failed to reach an agreement through negotiations with the Public Transportation Authority (PTA).

The strike began three days ago in the Mazalat Garage, but spread Wednesday morning to Nasr City, El Moneeb, Giza, Imbaba, El Ter’a Mazalat, Basateen, El Ameriya, Gesr El-Suez, 6th of October, according to the Center of Socialist Studies.

The workers believe that more public bus hubs will join the strike in the next few days, shutting down all public transportation.

The public transport sector employs about 40,000 workers. Previous nationwide strikes in 2007 and 2009 and during the January 25 uprising led to the establishment of transport workers’ independent trade union last March.

Striking drivers at Badr Garage in Moneeb, Giza were concerned about reprisal from the management if they were seen talking to journalists inside the garage.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, drivers told Daily News Egypt that they want the government to live up to its promise of a 200 percent raise. Public transport workers and drivers have for years complained from meager wages that fall in the LE 200-400 range.

In addition to new uniforms, the drivers want to upgrade the buses to provide better services. Out of 121 buses parked at the Badr Garage, only 70 work, they claimed.

The strike was going to be canceled following rumors that an agreement was reached with the PTA. But last night, PTA head Mona Mostafa Abdel Hamid said on El Hayat TV that the authority has not reached any agreements with the strikers, whom she described as thugs.

In response, the Independent Union of Transport Workers called for a nationwide strike.

“We are disrespected everywhere, by the public and by our employers. Neither appreciates the work we do for them,” said Hassouna Nour El Din, one of the striking drivers.

Nour El Din has been working at the PTA for 23 years. His basic salary is LE 310.09 and his net salary is LE 500 out of which the PTA deducts LE 76.70 for insurance.

“The insurance never goes to the insurance companies; instead the PTA cuts 10 percent of our money and invests it in its banks before sending it to the insurance companies,” he explained.

Other drivers who have been working for the PTA for 17-25 years, said their basic salaries range from LE 245 to LE 312.

Drivers complain of long working hours and lack of safety. They described 10-hour shifts that could start at 3 am. They also complained of no protection on late shifts.

“I was once attacked by three microbus drivers, who took me and threw me in Saft El-Laban area in Giza after they took the money I was able to collect through my shift,” said driver Sherif Saleh.

They recalled the case of one conductor who was kidnapped and robbed, but had to pay the LE 700 stolen from him, following a PTA decision without investigations.

The drivers didn’t name the conductor.

His colleagues reportedly pitched in to help him repay the money. They complained that when they take their complaints to the police station, officers are biased against them.

“For the PTA, there are only two important things: one is the bus and the other is the day’s revenue but we humans aren’t important. Where is our dignity? They don’t care,” said driver Kamal Zayan.

Zayan recalled the incident of a colleague who was attacked by a thug and had to take three months off to recover. The PTA did not compensate him.

“He did not have a salary for three months. We need to be equally treated like the rest of the public sector employees. We need proper compensation, humane treatment and respect,” added Zayan.

Drivers want risk and health allowances as is the case with train and metro workers. They also want to restructure the deduction system.

“So if I do something that my supervisor doesn’t like, he can deduct one day which also means 25 percent of the bonuses. And then another day which makes it 50 percent and then another day which makes it 75 percent. So what do I have left?” explained driver Mohamed El Sayed.

They also want to decrease the retirement age, currently set at 65. Before that, they can only resign.

“Why don’t they allow us to retire at 55; at least they will be able to recruit new generations instead of complaining about the unemployment in the country,” said driver Fawzy Ahmed.

Drivers denied reports that they were threatened by the police. They said police and army officers only tried to convince them to end the strike.


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