Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012

Ahram Weekly

Nothing moving for now

Striking truck drivers have brought several industries to a near halt, with concerned parties calling on the government to propose solutions, Mona El-Fiqi reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Truck drivers, responsible for a vital sector in a country’s economy since they are transporting food commodities and raw materials to and from manufacturing plants, retail and distribution centres, and ports, started a strike two weeks ago protesting high taxes and fines imposed on their trucks for excess cargo.
The strike, which extended in many governorates such as Damietta, Gharbiya, Sharkiya, Kafr Al-Sheikh and others, is having a clear negative impact on various economic activities.
Expressing the drivers’ point of view, Ahmed Al-Sonni, a striker and owner of a truck, said that exaggerated traffic fines for excess cargo are unfair. “The cargo, according to my truck license, is 30 tonnes, but I have to increase the cargo to cover the truck’s expenses. If I follow rules, it would not be profitable, so I increase the cargo to reach sometimes 120 tonnes.”
Al-Sonni agreed that when he violates regulations he should pay a fine, but he complained: “In one trip I have to pay a fine for the excess every time when I reach a platform scale (responsible for weighing trucks on highways). By the end of the trip I paid too much money, which is unfair.”
Al-Sonni explained that truck drivers pay insurance twice, as well as taxes; once when they get a truck licence from the Traffic Department, and second, according to truck tax cards, in addition to high traffic fines every now and then without reasonable cause.
Speaking frankly to Al-Ahram Weekly, Al-Sonni said: “Paying fines is common for truck drivers in all cases, even if we do not break the law. So why should we follow the rules?”
To be able to cover these payments, Al-Sonni said, “we are obliged to carry excess cargo and drive fast on highways to do more trips in less time. Sometimes I reach 160 kilometres per hour. The government should raise the maximum cargo to 45 tons at least.
Al-Sonni admitted that some drivers take drugs to stay awake for 48 hours to finish their trip early, adding that drivers are increasingly tested to know if they have taken drugs.
It is not only truck drivers that have problems and demands; the whole transportation sector is in urgent need of reform, experts say.
Sabri Al-Shabrawi, professor of marketing at the American University in Cairo (AUC), said that Egypt has a serious problem in the transportation sector, including the quality of highways as well as lack of driver training programmes. “Transportation is the haemoglobin of the country. If it stops, all economic activities are frozen,” Al-Shabrawi said.
Al-Shabrawi explained that during the past 40 years there was no real improvement plan for the transportation sector. “When there are no highways of good quality in a country, one is sure that there will be undeveloped areas, such as Upper Egypt, which lacks good highways linked with Cairo. It is not acceptable to take three days to go from Cairo to Aswan by land in 2012,” Al-Shabrawi added.
The current system is very weak, according to Al-Shabrawi. As for the truck drivers’ strike, Al-Shabrawi said that drivers have problems and financial demands like all other workers in Egypt. Al-Shabrawi blamed the government for not being decisive in the application of laws.
“How did it happen that the government took a decision to stop lorry trucks and then agreed to postpone implementation for two years? It is very dangerous to extend the work of these lorry trucks, even for one more day,” said Al-Shabrawi.
Two years ago the government said it would ban lorry trucks, claiming that they are responsible for 60 per cent of all road accidents in Egypt. In response to drivers’ demands, the decision was postponed for two years.
Commenting on the suggestion that army trucks help in transporting food commodities, to avoid creating shortages in essential foodstuffs, Al-Shabrawi said that the government should stop looking for short-term solutions; it has to solve problems at their root.
The truck drivers’ sit-in caused significant disruptions in a number of sectors. First, it led to the accumulation of fertiliser products in warehouses. Fertiliser factories threatened to stop production if the government could not end the drivers’ strike. Khaled Abdel-Maksoud, marketing manager at Evergrow, an affiliate to Al-Menoufiya Company for Fertilisers, said that factories had to reduce their production by 10 per cent, which will cause great losses as well as affecting the capacity of companies to meet their commitments both in local and foreign markets.
At the local level, since the beginning of the truck drivers’ strike, Egyptian farmers are unable to meet their needs for fertilisers for the winter season’s cultivation. Concerning foreign markets, Abdel-Maksoud explained: “The reputation of Egyptian products goes down since exporters are not able to meet their delivery date.”
“One more item harmed by the strike is wheat imports, of which thousands of tonnes remain stockpiled at Alexandria and Dekheila ports, waiting for trucks to carry it to wheat mills. The delay caused work to stop at many mills. The result will soon be a problem in producing subsidised bread, pasta and other related commodities,” Abdel-Maksoud added.
The Cereals Division at the Federation of Egyptian Industries (FEI) sent a memo to the minister of supply and internal trade complaining that the drivers’ strike caused a shortage in wheat supplies. The division also sent a memo to the General Authority of Supplies Commodities (GASC), saying that wheat mills are not responsible for the delay in producing flour according to previous tenders.
Ezzeddin Khalil, manager of the Cereals Division at the FEI, said the division also presented memos to both the minister of transportation and minister of industry and foreign trade, asking them to find a solution to the transport problem.
Ali Al-Demerdash, owner of an outlet for ration card food supplies, said that as of Sunday, 11 November, food commodities are being delivered as usual, as his outlet is small and the foodstuffs are delivered by small trucks not on strike.

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