Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Back to work at Mahalla

Thousands of Mahalla Spinning and Weaving Company workers ended their 12-day strike this week after the government gave in to their demands, reports Mona El-Fiqi 

Back to work at Mahalla
Back to work at Mahalla

Thousands of workers at the Mahalla Spinning and Weaving Company, a well-known state-owned company in the Gharbeya governorate, ended their strike and went back to work this week on their regular shifts after the government promised to meet their demands.

Two weeks ago, the company’s factories came to a halt and representatives of around 16,850 workers started to negotiate with the administration about their demands.

The workers demanded a 10 per cent salary raise, an increase in their meal allowance to be equivalent to other state-owned companies, and the formation of a committee to look at the cases of workers suspended over the past two years. 

The problems started when workers received their July salaries without the 10 per cent raise. Wael Habib, one of the Mahalla workers’ leaders, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the workers had opted at first for small rallies inside the company’s premises after working hours. 

When a couple of weeks had passed with no response from the administration, the workers started an open strike. “As our simple demands had not been met, we decided to go out on a full strike,” Habib said. 

He explained that when the workers came in for their regular shifts at the factory, they just sat beside their machines without operating them until the end of working hours. Some news outlets have put the overall losses of the strike at LE40 to LE45 million. 

According to Habib, the workers’ demands were legitimate as President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi in May announced a 10 per cent exceptional raise in basic salaries for workers not subject to the new Civil Service Law with the aim of easing the burdens on them.

“We did not ask for an extra raise. We just wanted what the president had announced. But Minister of the Public Enterprises Sector Ashraf Al-Sharkawi excluded Mahalla workers from the raise because they had received shares from end-of-year profits,” he said.

 “I have been working for the company for 23 years, and my salary in addition to monthly bonuses is LE2,400. A 10 per cent raise would only add LE100, and in any case the total salary is not enough to cover my family’s needs for a month,” Habib said. 

The fact that the company had incurred losses of LE568 million over the past year was another reason Al-Sharkawi gave for not giving the raise. Defending the workers, Habib said they were not to blame for the company’s losses, which he blamed on the administration.

 Besides the poor salaries, workers at the Mahalla Company have not received promotions for the past two years. They had been promised by the administration an increase to their lunch allowance from LE210 to LE400, but this promise was never fulfilled despite most other public-sector company workers getting similar sums.

In an attempt to end the strike, the company’s management held a meeting with 50 of the workers, offering them a 10 per cent basic salary raise in return for ending the strike and returning to work on 17 August. The workers refused the offer, saying they would continue the strike until all their demands were met.

A delegation of officials then visited the factory and met with a group of workers to discuss their demands. The delegation included Ahmed Mustafa, CEO of the Holding Company for Textiles which is the parent company for the 32 public-sector textiles companies, officials from the Manpower Ministry, and a group of MPs. 

Long and difficult negotiations then continued, but these were in vain because officials asked the workers to end their strike and then to negotiate their demands. However, the workers insisted on continuing the strike until their demands were met.

On 20 August, the negotiations ended with an acceptable solution to the workers, who returned to work according to their usual shifts. Officials promised to pay a 10 per cent raise in salaries at a minimum of LE65 and a maximum of LE130, increase food allowances from LE210 to LE300 per month, and to pay the third instalments of annual bonuses, equivalent to one-and-a-half month’s salary, immediately. 

Company workers receive annual bonuses equal to six-and-a-half months of their regular salaries.  

Habib explained that the workers usually received their overdue annual bonuses according to a schedule set out by the company’s administration before occasions like feasts and Ramadan. 

The company has also said it will form a committee to look into workers’ promotions and has promised to raise the food allowance gradually to reach LE400.

 Habib said that Mahalla MPs Mahmoud Shehata and Mohamed Khalifa were committed to applying the agreement reached with the workers within the week.  

The Mahalla Spinning and Weaving Company is one of the biggest textile and cotton companies in the country. The sector at large consists of 32 companies that employ 60,000 workers. The company was founded in 1927 by a group of Egyptian businessmen in collaboration with Banque Misr.

The company was the first to be nationalised by then-president Gamal Abdel-Nasser in 1960 and is still state-owned. Efforts to privatise many textiles companies have been blocked by strikes. 

The Mahalla textile workers began a wave of labour unrest in 2006, with strikes being held to demand an increase in monthly bonuses. 

In 2008, Mahalla was the site of the then largest protest against the former Mubarak regime, when a planned strike turned into a popular uprising following clashes with the police. 

Since then, the workers have managed successfully to campaign for more rights. In July 2012, striking workers were given increased bonuses of up from four-and-a-half months of basic salary to six-and-a-half months.

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