Our guest author today is Heba F. El-Shazli. She has 25 years of experience in the promotion of democracy, independent trade unions, political and economic development. She has worked with institutions and leaders throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to challenge authoritarian regimes. Currently she is a visiting professor of international studies and modern languages at the Virginia Military Institute. The views expressed here are her own.
The revolution in Egypt has unleashed a torrent of pent up frustration and protest from Egyptian workers in all walks of life. For weeks, beginning the day after former President Hosni Mubarak resigned, workers have taken to the streets to demand respect for basic worker rights and democratic principles. Their grievances are fundamental and share much in common with their U.S. counterparts now protesting in Wisconsin and elsewhere: the right to bargain collectively with employers over wages, hours, benefits and working conditions. Egyptian workers have been protesting at many worksites all over the country:
- More than 6,000 teachers protested in front of the Education Administration building in the governorate (state) of Qena in Upper Egypt. A majority of teachers are now working under temporary contracts without benefits. Teachers are calling for the end of these temporary contracts that cheapen their profession and cause much professional insecurity.
- Hundreds of workers from the iron and steel factory who were hired as “temporary contractual” workers demanded payment of three months’ worth of overtime and other benefits, and an end to their “temporary” status.
The never-ending “temporary contract” is a tactic to weaken workers’ rights, which has been widely used in both the Egyptian public and private sectors. In response to teacher protests, the new Education Minister did announce on Feb. 28 that the teachers who had been working under temporary contracts for more than three years will be made permanent as long as they are able to pass the teacher proficiency tests, which the Ministry will administer on March 25.