23 Mar 2012

Cairo: military tries to break bus strike

The military has deployed its own buses in several Cairo districts, in an attempt to break a 10-day strike by transport workers. The workers resumed a strike that had been suspended months ago in the 24 garages of the Public Transportation Authority (PTA) across Cairo and Giza. The PTA declined to meet the demands in an agreement that took place last September with the striking worker's independent union, workers said. 

Strike spreads
Although the strike started off with six garages, it had spread to 24 by the fifth day. The strike includes drivers on all bus routes, along with PTA workers and the authority’s engineers and technicians. “This protest includes everyone from the transport authority; we all face the same problems,” said Gamal Ibrahim, a driver who has been working at the transportation authority for 32 years. On the top of their demands, the strikers want to include the PTA under the Ministry of Transport like other train and metro workers. “Right now, we do not have an official ministry representing us and that is giving us a hard time. We are not allowed to use public transportation like the metro or trains for free, and we are being treated like scum,” said one of the drivers who preferred to remain anonymous.

The protesters are also demanding their pensions to be worth 100 months of their salary, instead of the 28 months the (PTA) gives them, which they claim is not enough compensation after working there for over 30 years. On average, salaries for the bus drivers range from LE 300 to LE 500 depending on the years they have been working. Ten percent of all salaries are deducted monthly for pensions, which the drivers claim they do not receive at the age of retirement. Other demands include better health care, and for the drivers to receive compensation for the risks they face in their jobs like other government employees.

Blamed for accidents
Besides being prone to robbery, bus drivers also face accidents that they are left to face on their own and are held responsible for. “Bus drivers who get into accidents and are taken to the police station for the investigation are left to deal with that without any help or support from the authority. The lawyers here do not care about the drivers, and all they ask for is the condition of the bus and if it can be released to be taken from the garage,” said one of the authorities’ accident officials at the Moneeb Garage, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to speak to the media.“The bus driver is also forced to pay for the damages to the bus, even if he was not responsible for the accident.”
The drivers said that they are required to work five rounds per day on average, and receive LE 7 compensation for the five rounds. However, they get LE 2 deductions for each round they miss. Drivers complain that failing to meet the minimum quota of the rounds is mainly due to conditions out of their hands (mostly the heavy traffic).

Drivers accuse the authority of neglecting the state of the buses they drive, which is the reason behind most of the accidents that take place. “The tyres that are being used are not good enough for driving. They don’t care about the lives of the people who ride the buses; they are jeopardizing their safety,” said driver Nabeel Mofeed. “We demand they conduct regular checks on the buses. Every time a bus breaks down and we go for maintenance they use old spare parts,” he added.

"Shaking hands of the state"
The strike of the public transport workers was suspended and resumed repeatedly, a trend that Head of Center for Trade Unions and Worker's Services (CTUWS) Kamal Abbas described as a sign of the "shaking hands of the Egyptian state." "The culture of negotiations adopted by the Egyptian government has to develop," Abbas told DNE, adding that the government never committed to its promises to the workers.

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