Egypt's economic problems highlighted by striking workers
Four hundred of Egypt's gas bill collectors go into their 15th day on strike over better wages.
The workers are employed by NATGAS, a private company, which collects gas bills in three Cairo districts as well as in 13 other governorates on behalf of the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS).
The workers' main demand is a rise in wages, consistent with NATGAS' charter that is by EGAS. According to Mohamed Abul-Gheit, a bill collector from one of Cairo's branches, the charter puts the minimum monthly wage for a collector at LE500 ($82) plus some LE350 ($57) as transportation allowance.
"The company charter also gives us the right to a bonus equivalent to 100 per cent of the basic salary and a share of the company profits that should not be less than 6 months worth of salary," explains Abul-Gheit, who represents workers from the NATGAS independent syndicate in Al-Herafeyan (north of Cairo) office.
"But actually, we only get a basic salary of LE400, a transportation allowance of LE150 and LE200 per month as profit sharing," assures Abul-Gheit, who has been working as a bill collector for three years.
Labor action has become a regular affair in the Egyptian workplace since the January 2011 uprising ousted President Mubarak. The much-celebrated uprising handed the impoverished Egyptian population rosy promises of prosperity and financial ease under a new regime. A looming financial crises and a persistent recession, however, are showing how unrealistic such expectations were.
NATGAS’s management was very reluctant to comment on the issue.
Mohamed Rashwan, managing director of NATGAS refused to comment. "I will not discuss the company secrets over the phone," he told Ahram Online.
"The administration had a meeting with the workers and we clarified everything but they insist on maintaining the strike", said Abdel-Rahman El-Sharkawi, financial manager, refusing to give further details.
Due to the lack of efficient legal and regulatory mechanisms to resolve labor problems in Egypt, such workplace crises usually extend for months until one of the parties gives in to the other. Strikes have taken place on and off in various major establishments across Egypt, including seaports, public transportation, hospitals and schools.
Abul-Gheit, the bill collector, said the administration informed them that collectors are not mentioned in the charter and that such a position is new in the company.
"There are people here who have been working as bill collectors for 10 years," comments Abul-Gheit.
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