Thursday, 6 March 2014

Egypt: New government meets for first time to deal with strikes

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb appealed to Egyptians’ sense of patriotism to go back to work and to call off their strikes which are crippling the national economy.

The labour unrest, however, is largely the making of government measures introduced over the past three years allied to the sense of people-power acquired since the protests started three years ago. Successive governments have sought to mollify public opinion by granting wage increases to public sector workers which are not sustainable, given the dire state of government finances. Furthermore, the increases have not been universally applied, with the police and army getting a higher increase and some workers, particularly in the transport sector, deemed ineligible for the minimum wage.

The prime minister promised to look into the demands of protesters, but it is unclear what he can propose to meet their grievances.

Those who have been on strike include bus drivers, postal workers, doctors, pharmacists and workers in the steel and textile industries. According to media reports, negotiations between the minister of communications and postal workers broke down when the minister said that there was not enough money to pay the workers what they were asking for.

The difficult economic conditions have been exacerbated by power cuts caused by a shortfall in the production and supply of natural gas to meet demand, rising at 8-10% a year.

Security challenges are also dampening economic activity. The tourism minister flew to Berlin for the major travel trade show and also to try to persuade the German authorities to reverse their advisory on citizens to avoid all of the Sinai Peninsula. The Egyptian authorities have sought to isolate Sharm el Sheikh and other resorts from the violence that has afflicted other parts of the peninsula, but the German government was unwilling to see the distinction.

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2014 Menas Associates

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