Egypt: we want to work, they won’t let us

Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Faiza Rady, March 6, 2014.

“We came to this labour meeting to talk about what is happening to our jobs and our factory but you won’t listen. Even among our fellow workers we are marginalised. All you want to talk about is the minimum wage but our situation is worse. Since our factory was declared bankrupt we have been paid just 30 per cent of our salaries. Over and above legitimate minimum wage considerations you should listen to us because we are waging a struggle to survive,” said Nabila Abbas Al-Saidi from the Wabriyat textile and garment mill in the Delta town of Samanud.  

Addressing the Workshop on The Minimum Wage, sponsored by the Centre of Workers and Trade Union Services (CWTUS), Nabila vented her anger at being sidelined by the authorities who only address the labour demands of large companies like Ghazl Al-Mahalla which employs 22,000 workers. “We want to work, but they won’t let us”, Nabila told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Nabila, 47, and her 1,300 co-workers have been occupying the mill since its closure 10 months ago. They refuse to lose their jobs and their livelihoods to privatisation.

“We stage the sit-ins on schedule with our respective shifts. I worked the morning shift so I go to the mill from 8am to 3pm,” Nabila told the Weekly. “We continue to fight for our rights because we believe that the company’s closure is unwarranted. Wabriyat has a deficit of LE2 million, which is minimal considering the revenues of the Public Works Sector to which the mill is affiliated.”

Nabila takes pride in the mill’s production to which she has devoted 27 years, her entire working life. “Our products compete with those of Gazl Al-Mahalla which are considered the best of Egypt’s textile production line,” she explains. “Management even labeled our cloths as ‘made in Al-Mahalla’, just as they label some jeans as being ‘made in Paris’. They got away with it because we have sophisticated equipment, comparable to what is used in European and North American manufacturing. Among our equipment is a piece that is unique in the Arab region, it is only the Israelis who use it in their factories. We protect the mill’s equipment with our lives because we know its worth” … //

… In Wabriyat management has consistently paid women lower wages by inflating the men’s bonus and incentive payments. They justify the de facto gender discrimination by claiming that men, as heads of household, shoulder the greater part of the family’s expenses, says Nabila.

It’s a fallacious argument, as Nabila knows only too well. Over 27 years she has worked her fingers to the bone to contribute to her household expenses and provide her children with an education. By any standards she did well. Two years ago her oldest son graduated from college with a degree in engineering, and her daughter is in nursing. Her son hasn’t found work. Like 18.9 per cent of Egypt’s university graduates he is unemployed.

In the face of adversity Nabila remains strong. She and her co-workers refuse to give up the struggle. They will continue to occupy the Wabriyat mill in Samanud because they believe in their right to work.
(full text).


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