For the 8th day in the row, dozens of workers at the Holding Company for Spinning and Weaving in Mahalla in Gharbeya continued their strike in protest of suspending their 10% bonus, which was promised by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi last month.
The workers, who started a partial strike on 19 October, said they protested the “denial” of government officials. They also refused to receive their salaries, in protest.
The bonus, which is set to workers and employees who the controversial Civil Service Law given applies to, was given to personnel starting July in public sector companies in the field of food and metal industry.
The situation escalated at the beginning of last week when a representative from the company met a delegation of the workers, which ended in the three shifts to operate the mega industrial structure stopping production. In addition to demanding the bonus, the workers are demanding their monthly compensations for meals.
Local media have been citing company officials saying that the strikers caused heavy losses for the establishment. Officials in the company were not available for comment on the issue.
On Saturday, the company referred three workers from different departments to investigation and banned them from entering the vicinity of the company. According to the colleagues, the questioned workers denied the company’s accusations, which included “inciting workers to strike”.
The three said in the investigation that the majority of the workers felt “oppressed” and the strikers argued that the company is “blaming its failure on others”.
The Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, who is following up on the strike, said that the company distributed flyers calling upon workers to return to their posts and not to “answer to the saboteurs calls”. The bonus is not applied to the workers, the company said.
In solidarity, thousands of workers from Kafr Al-Dawwar Textile Company started an open-ended strike.
“Company officials and the Industry Minister should start dialogue with the workers and stop targeting them by referring to investigation or accusing the workers of inciting disorder,” the Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services said.
It is expected that the Gharbeya governor Said Kamel will host the Minister of Labour force to “study” the workers complaints. The head of the Spinning and Weaving syndicate Abdel Fattah Ibrahim will also attend the meeting.
Ibrahim said the strike should end to “keep the company’s reputation” and to counter “inciting calls by the ‘independent’ syndicate or by elements working with the Muslim Brotherhood.”
In a press conference hosted by workers solidarity groups on Sunday, labour leader Kamal Al-Fayoumy, said that weaving public sector companies have reached a level of loses of EGP 30 bn. He said the government is not “doing its job to stop these losses”.
A campaign called “Popular Campaign to save the Weaving Industry” said that “the high level of loses are due to the government’s issuing of laws that serve businessmen”.
Strikes in Egypt are usually dispersed by force or by threats of suspension and have acted as a main source of opposition to different governments. A Cairo High Court ruled in May 2015 that any employee proven to have participated in a strike will be forced into retirement for “delaying the interests of the public”.
The court defined “striking” as any act of gathering by the workers, through which they halt all of production process, while still being part of the workforce of the company or the institution.
The verdict came two days after Labour Day 2015 when the state-backed Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) presented Al-Sisi with a “code of conduct” rejecting strikes. Meanwhile, the state and mainstream media repeatedly called on workers to refrain from striking and to increase “the wheels of production”. This would help achieve stability and security, using nationalistic rhetoric to argue that striking “would allow terrorists to capitalise”.
The company is one of Egypt’s major industrial infrastructures and is reported to include more than 75,000 workers.
Mahalla workers staged a crippling strike in 2006 to demand bonuses and better wages, which inspired numerous other strikes by factory workers across the country. This strike is often credited as being one of the major factors leading up to the 25 January Revolution.