Press release

March 13, 1997

The siege of electrical transformer workers in Matariya continues

The Center for Human Rights Legal Aid (CHRLA) expresses its concern regarding the continuing siege imposed by central security forces on the workers of the Nasr Company for Manufacturing Electric Products and Transformers in Matariya. The workers' peaceful sit-in at the company's premises has entered its third day of protest against the policies of the chairman of the board, which prejudice their rights.

The investigations carried out by the Center's lawyers at the sit-in revealed a number of facts:

1- The company owns two factories, one in Matariya, with a workforce of 1,200, and the second in Shubra, with a workforce of 700. Since the start of Mr. Muhammad Taha Essafti's tenure as chairman of the board of directors on July 1, 1996, he has taken a number of measures against the workers of the company which can be regarded as abusive and which have prejudiced the privileges which the workers previously enjoyed. The company's workers have interpreted these measures as aiming ultimately at laying off workers and pressuring great numbers of them to leave their jobs, in preparation for selling the company off to a foreign investment company.

2- The management's policy of curtailing the rights of the workers can be seen in the following examples: The management has terminated the bus service which was available to transport the company's workers to work; it has laid off 150 workers by refusing to renew their contracts after their expiry; and it has terminated the contracts concluded by the company's previous administration with a number of hospitals to provide medical services for the workers, reducing these services to a limited role performed by the medical department in the company.

The management has also amended promotion and bonus regulations, making reductions in them on the basis that the company is not making enough profit. On this point, the workers have confirmed an increase in production and its accumulation in the company's warehouses due to administrative failure to execute delivery contracts on time.

Furthermore, the management has altered working hours, reducing the weekend to one day only but maintaining the extra working hour which had been added to each day to compensate for Saturdays. The company's management has strictly enforced respect of working hours' regulations by firing anyone who was a few minutes late more than three times a month.

3- Over the past few months the management refused to negotiate with the workers over the measures taken against them, which led to an increase in anger and resentment among the workers and which resulted ultimately in the declaration of a sit-in at the company's premises in Shubra and Matariya on March 11.

The authorities succeeded in manipulating the workers in Shubra into terminating their strike, by spreading rumors that the dispute had been settled and that their colleagues in Matariya had terminated their strike. The management decided to give the workers in Shubra two days off and requested that they should terminate their strike to avoid the use of force.

4- Hundreds of Shubra workers went to Matariya yesterday morning to discover that their colleagues were still on strike, and that the security forces had blocked the entrances to the company premises, and had refused to allow any food to be supplied to the strikers by their relatives who gathered near the site.

The Center's lawyers have found information alleging that four of the company's syndicate leaders had been arrested not to be true.

Nevertheless, CHRLA is still seriously concerned about the security forces possibly using force to terminate the strike. This would constitute a dangerous violation of the workers' rights to gather and strike peacefully, which is acknowledged by all international human rights covenants, not to mention the risk this use of force might pose to the workers' and inhabitants' lives and physical integrity.

The Center recalls the atrocious consequences of the use of force in terminating the strike of the spinners and weavers in Kafr al-Dowar in late September 1994, which resulted in

the deaths of at least four persons and several serious casualties amongst citizens, some of whom lost their eyes from police bullets.

While urging the authorities not to use force in terminating the workers' peaceful sit-in and acknowledging the workers' right to collective negotiations, CHRLA emphasises the importance of removing all legal restrictions preventing workers from practicing their right to strike peacefully. Being able to strike is an essential part of workers' mechanisms for peaceful resistance to the impoverishment imposed on them by privatization and the policies of structural adjustment adopted by the state.

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