As Egyptian factories closed this week in protest to what owners said was their inability to continue to make a profit after the government raised the cost of natural gas and diesel, it also left more than 10,000 workers without work. And the government is not moving to make amends.
In fact, the government has already begun to fail to pay pensions across many sectors, including at the Journalist’s Syndicate. When Etidal Mohamed, a retired widow, went to receive her meager monthly pension earlier this month, the cashier simply said, “we have no funds.”
It was as simple as that, Mohamed told Bikyanews.com shortly after the incident. For her, she says she doesn’t know what will happen next. “I have a little left and my family is kind, but what happens if they can’t pay next month, or the month after. I don’t know,” she continued.
Ironically, as brick factories and others closed this week as owners protested, it is the people who suffer, not the profits. A leading researcher at an NGO focused on companies in the Nile Delta told Bikyanews.com that “the business owners have made so much money off the workers and subsidies over the years they don’t really lose anything except more profits.”
The researcher, who asked not to be named as the person has reported for international monitoring groups and governments, continued to argue that the reduction of subsidies “would actually be a good thing if the government had a minimum wage and made certain companies would not close.”
The logic is sound that by ending subsidies the government will have more funds in order to pay pensions and use the money for infrastructure projects in a New Deal-like move that would boost employment and wages. But the government has done little to ensure workers’ rights are upheld.
Adel Al-Ganidi, a factory owner and member of the Egyptian Brick Factory Owners’ Organization, was cited in local press as saying that other owners have also joined the strike and stopped work.
They say they won’t open their factories until the move is rescinded by the government.
He even argued that the end of subsidies would hurt the workers, who he and other owners have put out of business.
Last month, Mahmoud Radwan, a 29-year-old factory worker from Tanta who had come to Cairo for the January 25 two-year anniversary protests, told Bikyanews.com that he has worked on and off for years making only 20 Egyptian pounds a day.
“How can we live? We all want change and such, but who care’s about the [Muslim] Brotherhood when we don’t have bread?” he asked. For him and others, the closing of factories is likely to see yet another increase in unemployment in the country.
According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), unemployment in the country is officially at 12.5 percent through last year, but NGOs and agencies have stated that this figure only reflects the formal sector. Those individuals such as Radwan, who does not have an official contract, remain outside the numbers.
With the number of unemployment rising, pensions and salaries disappearing, and reports that the country could face massive food shortages in the coming summer months, Egypt is heading toward a tipping point, one that could very well determine the future of the country, socially, economically and politically.
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