By Mennatallah Youssef and Mai Shams El-Din
CAIRO: Public transport workers resumed a strike suspended months ago in the authority’s 24 garages across Cairo and Giza, with plans to move their strike to parliament this Wednesday if their demands are not addressed by the government.
The Public Transportation Authority (PTA) declined to meet the demands in an agreement that took place last September with the striking worker’s independent union, workers said.
Five days into this strike, the 24 bus garages across Greater Cairo have joined after only six participating garages initially. 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.
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 for bad 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 tires 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 them to conduct regular checks on the buses. Every time a bus breaks down and we go for maintenance they use old spare parts,” he added.
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.
“We cannot blame the workers for striking which was their last resort. We have to condemn the government policies that declined to meet the demands,” Abbas said, referring to the need to redefine the techniques of negotiations between the government and workers.
“Our labor law does not set the rules of negotiation, and does not hold the government accountable for its promises. In other countries with strong labor laws, workers can take the case to court if the government does not comply with its obligations,” said Abbas.
A delegation from the Popular Socialist Alliance Party visited the striking workers in Imbaba garage last Tuesday to support their demands, according to a statement released by the party earlier.
The party declared its support and its intention to continue the struggle with the workers until their demands are met.
Al-Masry Al-Youm reportedly quoted a source inside the public transportation authority saying that the authority’s head was out of the country and her deputy failed to negotiate with the striking workers which led to escalating the situation.