Nearly 2,000 workers at one of Egypt’s major ports recently agreed to end a 12-day strike, after management bowed to their demands to reinstate several sacked colleagues.
The strike at the Ain Sokhna port started on 13October.
According to Ashraf Issa, General Secretary of the port workers’ union, a strike was called “after the management wrongfully dismissed eight of our colleagues,” allegedly for trying to organise an independent union to demand better working conditions.
DP World, the company which runs the port, claims that they laid off the eight workers in compliance with Egypt’s Unified Labor Law [12/2003].
But the sacked workers and their representatives disagree.
“The dismissal was arbitrary and without prior notification,” said Issa.
Mohamed Abdel Ghany, one of the eight sacked workers, told a reporter from the Egyptian Independent that their dismissal was part of the company’s union-busting tactics.
“We received notices from DP World claiming that we were fired due to our incompetence as workers.
“Why are we today deemed to be incompetent? It is because they have no other excuse with which to fire us, and they’re not willing to admit that they fired us because we helped organise an independent union at our workplace, or that we helped organise the strike.”
DP World claims to have lost 120 million Egyptian pounds (approximately US$19, 632, 500) in the first eight days of the strike alone, with average losses of 15 million Egyptian pounds (approximately US$2, 450, 000) per day.
The company also claims that the strike cost the Egyptian government millions of pounds, although the government says that re-routing ships to other ports in Suez and Port Said helped stem losses.
During the strike, DP World called for President Morsi’s direct interference to help end the strike.
There were also attempts by the management to break the strike by threatening not to pay workers’ salaries.
But Issa confirms that only those working in administrative positions condemned the strike to the management.
The Ain Sokhna port, located near the southern end of the Suez Canal, is Egypt’s main gateway to the Far East.
It is run by DP World which is the third largest port operator in the world.
In October 2007, DP World signed an agreement with the then Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif granting the company exclusive rights to run the port until 2032.
However, since the Egyptian uprising, relations between the management and the workers have been tense.
On several occasions workers have downed tools to demand job security, full-time contracts for full-time work, overdue profit-sharing payments, periodic bonuses, hazard compensation and improved working conditions.
Before the end of the strike Issa confirmed to Equal Times that the management of DP World hadn’t complied with previous agreements.
“We can’t trust this management after they broke the agreement signed in the previous strike. We are waiting for our colleagues to be back to work and then we will start negotiating our other unfulfilled demands.”
At the time of publication, seven of the sacked workers were to be reinstated pending a disciplinary hearing regarding their role in inciting the strike action, while another worker agreed to terminate his contract on payment of compensation.
Immediately after the strike, President Mohammed Morsi’s legal adviser Mohamed Fouad Jadallah and the Dispute Settlement Secretary for the Ministry of Manpower Nahed al-Ashri, met with representatives of the workers and management to negotiate a settlement.
A committee has also been formed to discuss the rest of the workers’ demands.
Fatma Ramadan, a founding member of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions, argues that the most important feature of this strike was the solidarity between the workers and their insistence on continuing to strike until their colleagues were reinstated.
“This strike indicates something very positive in the workers’ movement.
“They moved to a different level after a year of protesting.
“They discovered the importance of solidarity with their co-workers, and now they are ready to initiate strikes for this purpose, not only for their direct demands,” Ramadan said.