Workers at the Egyptian Propylene and Polypropylene Company in Port Said started a strike on Monday, after three workers were arrested while notifying a police station of plans for their strike.
Mohamed Ibrahim, Kamal Arafat and Mohamed Radi were arrested on Saturday evening when they went to Al-Zohour Police Station to notify the authorities with their planned strike, as per the Labour Law.
Zeyad Bakry, lawyer at the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) defending the three workers, said that upon their arrival to the police station, head of the Port Said Criminal Investigation Unit ordered their detention on the basis of an administrative report the company had filed against them.
Bakry said their initial detention was invalid, adding that according to the laws, citizens can only be preventively detained pending a misdemeanour or criminal offence.
The three workers faced prosecution on Sunday; the prosecution ordered their detention for four days pending investigation. Bakry claimed that the detention order was not issued by the concerned prosecutor but by the attorney general. They are accused of: inciting the strike, failing to perform their duties, stirring riots and threatening national security.
Bakry denied the three workers had committed any crime. He stressed that striking is a legitimate right.
The workers’ detention, due to be renewed on Tuesday, was condemned by labour movements, such as the Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS) and the Egyptian Federation for Independent Trade Unions (EFITU).
CTUWS noted that striking is a right guaranteed by the constitution and all international conventions signed by Egypt. The union called for halting oppressive activities against independent unions.
EFITU added that such “oppressive behaviour” will only further instigate tension among labourers. It also condemned the ministerial decision to increase natural gas prices for domestic users, due to be implemented starting May.
The Ministry of Interior’s media office nevertheless denied the arrest of any workers. It ruled out the possibility of arresting individuals while attempting to give notice regarding a planned public assembly.
The striking workers are mainly calling for their profits from the years 2012 and 2013 and production incentives. They also demand the resignation of the company’s board of directors and the cancellation of the company’s bylaws.
The workers have held a three-day strike in January calling for similar demands. The strike was lifted after the company’s administration agreed to meet their demands during a meeting attended by the military adviser.
Dalia Moussa, the ECESR workers’ coordinator, said the administration amended the bylaws for the worse, failing to take into consideration proposed amendments submitted by the workers.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb discussed the workers’ problems in a meeting attended by Minister of Manpower Nahed Al-Ashry and Egyptian Trade Union Federation Chairman Gebali Al-Maraghi, ahead of Labour Day on Thursday.
During the meeting, Mehleb called on workers to exert further efforts and described them as “Egypt’s weapon… in its economic struggle.” He warned against “those who strive to abuse workers by inciting chaos and pushing them to stall production through striking”.
Mehleb urged union leaders to channel the workers’ demands and needs to executives, who would help in reaching solutions that would preserve the former’s rights. He also called on them to “clarify” to the workers the steps taken by the cabinet to improve their conditions.
In his first address to the nation since the swearing in of the new cabinet, Mehleb called for an end to all sit-ins, protests and strikes, adding: “Let us build our country.” He said that he is fully aware of the demands and pressures of life. “Your demands will be taken very seriously,” he said. “Raise your demands through your representatives so as not to stop the construction process.”