These workers shouldn’t go to jail for protesting
For nearly two months, workers at the Torah Cement Company have been holding a sit-in to demand a full-time contract and retroactive payment of wages. Though some of these workers have been at the company for more than 10 years, they are employed on a part-time or temporary contract, denying them the rights and benefits of full-time workers.
In May 2016, a Cairo appeals court ruled in favor of the workers, who had filed suit to compel the company to extend health care, profit-sharing compensation and other employment rights. The company has so far refused to abide by the court's decision.
In late April of this year, Amnesty International issued a statement condemning Egypt's relentless assault on the rights of workers. "The right to strike and peaceful assembly are enshrined both in Egypt's Constitution and international human rights law," said Najia Bounaim, campaigns director for North Africa at Amnesty International. "Egyptian authorities must stop punishing people for exercising and demanding their rights."
Here, we are reprinting a joint statement from leading parties, unions, movement leaders and human rights groups in Egypt. The statement was first published at the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt website.
WE, THE signatories of this statement, express our shock and stupefaction at the verdict issued on June 4, sentencing 32 workers of the Torah Cement company to three years in jail. The workers were accused of gang violence and assault on civil servants, but not a single piece of evidence was shown in court. The sentence was issued only 15 days after the workers' arrest and their sentencing, and the judge's bias was made clear when he declared he was convinced that demonstrations and strikes should be "forbidden and criminalized"! All of this means this was anything but a fair trial.
The government has shifted the burden of so-called economic reforms on workers and the poor who are alone in footing the bill for the surge in prices and poverty levels and the collapse in living standards. Not content with that, the government is now hell-bent on cracking down against workers who raise demands and has them jailed or sacked.
These and other crimes have put Egypt back on the International Labour Organization's blacklist for the fourth time, along with the countries that engage in the most blatant infringements of workers and trade union rights in violation of international conventions.
The signatories reaffirm the legitimacy of the Torah workers' struggle. They have resisted attempts at sacking them and demonstrated on their company's premises for 55 days. The workers have been employed there for years and therefore have a right to permanent contracts instead of employment through subcontracting companies (the use of which the government seeks to generalize in the project of the new labor law), which live off the sweat of the workers while preventing them from receiving any social security benefits or participating in profit-related bonus schemes.
The signatories reaffirm their total support to the imprisoned Torah cement workers and that they will use all available peaceful means to secure their liberation in the face of the tyrannical rulers whose policies impoverish millions of Egyptians while repressing their protests.
The signatories call on human rights groups, trade unions and workers' organizations in Egypt and the whole world asking them to show solidarity with the workers.
The signatories reaffirm the fundamental right of the working class to strike and demonstrate in the face of waves of price increases, impoverishment and exploitation. This right was hard-won by the workers of Egypt through their long struggle and is protected by international conventions signed by Egypt as well as by the 2014 constitution.
Bread and Freedom
Popular Socialist Alliance
Muhebb Abboud, workers and peasants secretary in the Social-Democratic Party
The Revolutionary Socialists
6th April Youth Movement
6th April Movement--Democratic Front
January Socialist Movement
Strong Egypt Students' Movement
Front for the Defence of Journalists and Liberties
Legal Cooperative for Workers' Consciousness
General Union of Tourism Workers
Egyptian Union of Oil Workers
Rashad Kamal, President of the Federation of Independent Suez Unions
Union of Workers in the Spinning, Weaving, Garment and Leather Industries
The General Union of Workers in the Port Said Free Zone
Amr Rashad, Qasr al-Aini al-Faransawi Hospital workers' union
The Permanent Congress of Alexandria Workers
Human rights groups
Al Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Egypt's Conscience (Committee for the Defence of the Oppressed)
The Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights
First published at the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt website.