CAIRO: A number of labor activists said they would resort to “political blackmail” using the parliamentary and presidential elections as pressure to push for a higher minimum wages.
Activists said that they will link their demands directly with the president’s electoral program to pressure the government to comply.
“Labor movements haven’t done enough during the past period but contemporary political conditions should help us increase pressure on the government,” said Khaled Ali, head of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) during a press conference held at the Journalists’ Syndicate on Sunday.
Prior to the press conference, activists staged a protest in front of the syndicate, calling for a higher minimum wage.
The ECESR had filed a lawsuit last week against the president, the prime minister and the minister of economic development, contesting the Supreme Council for Wages’ decision to raise minimum wages to LE 400, demanding that it be LE 1,200.
The new wages lawsuit is raised by ECESR on behalf of Nagy Rashad, a worker, Omnia Shokr, a journalist, and Hend Mahmoud, a university student.
“We have taken steps to force the prime minister to set a maximum wage for state workers of LE 56,000 per year, we have also filed lawsuits on behalf of workers’ groups whose salaries are below LE 400,” Ali said.
“We chose to include people who aren’t directly involved in the issue, such as students, but who will be affected by it later to increase the pressure on the government,” he added.
Activists accused the government of circumventing a previous court order setting minimum wage at a salary compatible with living costs (estimated as LE 1,200), and ordering the National Wages Council to set it instead.
“This ruling forced the government to address the issues of redistributing wealth, human rights in Egypt and the welfare of Egyptian workers. The LE 1,200 will be insufficient in a couple of years to ensure a good quality of life,” Rashad said.
Ali criticized the council’s decision to raise the gross salary, which is unfixed depending on bonuses, to LE 400.
He said that the LE 400 will be reduced to LE 300 after deducting insurance and subscription items from the salary.
“The government itself set the poverty line at LE 654 per month, along with the economic affairs committee at the Shoura Council and studies conducted by government-owned economic think-tanks,” Ali said.
Activists said that low wages open the door for corruption and low productivity as workers can’t satisfy their basic needs, demanding that wages should cover a worker’s needs and the needs of those who are dependent on him.
“The government is using investors as a scarecrow to reject our demands to raise minimum wages saying that such a decision will force foreign investors to flee the country and threatened that it would outsource foreign labor, but we will continue our fight,” Rashad said.
Rashad suggested that a reformed taxing system be the main funding source for the wages’ increase without causing a “shock” to the local economy which will benefit from higher spending rates that will encourage investments.
The first court session of the lawsuit is scheduled for Nov. 30.