22 Sep 2011

Cairo strikers fight to transform workplace

After months of fruitless talks with the Public Transport Authority (PTA), Cairo bus drivers and ticket collectors have threatened to broaden their strike. Most of Cairo's public buses are now languishing in their garages as bus drivers and ticket collectors maintain their strike for improved working conditions and better salaries. By Wednesday, workers at twenty out of the capital's 24 public bus depots had reportedly joined the strike.
"We will remain on strike until we're treated like human beings and provided with a minimum wage," 45-year-old ticket collector Hesham Abdel Hakim told Ahram Online. "With my current salary, I can't even buy clothes for my children."
Along with better pay and conditions, drivers and collectors are also demanding more presentable uniforms. They also complain of longstanding corruption at the PTA, and of the  poor condition of the buses currently in use. In front of the Mazallat and El-Teraa bus garages, hundreds of workers - none in uniform - could be seen milling around, discussing their next move. Buses, meanwhile, most of them old and dilapidated, sat idly inside.
PTA workers complain of unrealistically low wages and a lack of medical insurance. Bus workers generally receive a fixed monthly salary of LE250, along with a small commission depending on the number of tickets sold. Drivers are demanding monthly salaries of LE1200, considered the minimum salary needed to get by in Egypt by most economists.
In the wake of the recent revolution, former finance minister Samir Radwan had approved a 200 per cent salary increase for all public transport workers starting July 2011. But the promised increase never materialized, and transport workers remained until recently in talks with PTA officials.
Fed up with fruitless negotiations, bus workers in the Mazallat garage in Cairo's Shubra district began their strike on Sunday. On Tuesday, workers received written approval for their promised pay raises from PTA chief Mona Mostafa. Workers were later surprised, however, to hear Mostafa declare on a private satellite TV station that the PTA would not give in to strikers' demands. Workers were further incensed to hear Mostafa describe them as ''thugs.'' ''We refuse to be described this way, so we decided to join the strike,'' 35-year-old mechanic at Cairo's El-Teraa garage Mohamed Nabil told Ahram Online.
Meanwhile, Transport Authority police have barred journalists and photographers from entering bus depots to talk to striking drivers and collectors. ''They don’t want anyone taking photos of the rundown buses inside the garage,” Nabil said.
As of press time, government officials had still failed to re-launch formal negotiations with striking workers. Cairo bus drivers, for their part, say that workers at all 24 of Cairo's bus depots would join their strike today if their demands remained unmet.
Send messages of support for the strike to the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions at eluf2011@gmail.com and copy to menasolidarity@gmail.com

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