By Brett Borkan
CAIRO: While being a substantial increase from the previous year’s level, the revision of Egypt’s proposed minimum wage from LE 700 to LE 684 per month was met with negative reactions from some activists who were hoping for much higher levels.
Egypt’s amended general budget, whose draft was finally approved Monday night by the country’s ruling military council after weeks of negotiation, reflects the government’s continued preference of the country’s business class over the poor, social activist Wael Khalil explained to Daily News Egypt Tuesday.
The new wage, while “an improvement, still falls way below our LE 1,200 demand,” and represents another “example of the priority of the government to lean on the poor and working majority in order to protect the interests of businessmen and the established elite,” Khalil said.
Egypt’s 2011-2012 budget was originally proposed by the Ministry of Finance in June, but was rejected by the ruling military council due to its high 11 percent deficit projections and reliance on foreign loans.
Khalil said that he was happy that the newly approved budget rejects foreign loans, and will decrease Egypt’s deficit to 8.5 percent, but he feels that it is not right to do this “on the backs of the workers and pensioners.”
“The government had to essentially back down on the issue of capital gains taxes,” he argued, calling this “another example of the current government failing to get its priorities straight.”
Khaled Ali, director for the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, also expressed his objections to the LE 684 minimum wage.
Like Khalil, Ali agrees that Egyptian “workers do not win with this level.”
“As for the originally proposed LE 700 level, well, I fundamentally disagreed with this in the first place. You really can’t survive on this amount at all,” Ali expressed to DNE.
Mona Mina, the official spokesperson for Doctors Without Rights, also vented her frustrations to DNE of the country’s abysmal minimum wage level that affects even highly skilled professions like medicine.
The new LE 684 benchmark, or even LE 700, is still no wage for a doctor, she said.
Speaking on the government’s decision to compromise between the demands of company owners and workers, Magda Kandeel, the executive director of the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies, says that the new minimum wage is “not very well thought out.”
“Because people were demanding LE 1,200 per month, while the private sector was complaining that an increase in minimum wage would have a spillover effect, no one will really win here,” Kandeel told DNE
According to Kandeel, the newly increased wage may actually have an adverse effect on many working Egyptians.
Some companies, she explained, may decide to increase the costs of their goods and services, thus raising the cost of living, while other companies may decide not to make new hires, thus decreasing the availability of jobs.
In addition, higher minimum wages may also coax some businesses into informally hiring employees and paying them less than the minimum wage, Kandeel went on to warn, noting that 50 percent of the country’s workforce is already employed informally.
“I really don’t think the [new minimum wage] will help many, it just protects those that already have secure jobs in the public sector,” she added.
According to activists, pressure must be kept on the government to continue the fight for higher wages for the country’s working class.
“We need to continue mass demonstrations to pressure the government, [because] it won’t stop with just the budget and the decision on minimum wage,” Khalil warned, “but they will continue leaning on workers, on the country’s weakest side.”
To move forward, Khalil explained that social rights must be more effectively included in the country’s current rhetoric alongside democratic rights.
“We must not only mobilize people, but also debate and explain specifically why social justice is important for [Egypt]. You cannot really say that you want democracy, and then after that you’ll [work to] get social justice. No. If you do it in this order, you’ll end up with nothing,” he cautioned.