Court upholds ruling on new minimum wage; workers skeptical about implementation

Egypt’s Administrative Court issued a verdict on Tuesday upholding a previous ruling in March that obliged the government to set a new minimum wage in light of rising living expenses. The courts, however, lack the jurisdiction to determine what the new minimum wage should be.

Nevertheless, Lawyer Khaled Ali, director of the independent Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights–who filed the two cases on behalf of Nagy Rashad, a worker from the South Cairo Grain Mill–was not optimistic.  

“I doubt that government will actually implement this decision. If they wanted to implement this verdict, they would have done so following the March verdict,” Ali told Al-Masry Al-Youm. “In fact, the government is now working on filing an appeal against the verdict before a higher court. It is clearly displeased with today’s verdict.”

When exactly the appeal will be filed, however, remains uncertain.

In light of Tuesday’s court ruling, the state-appointed National Council for Wages (NCW) is due to convene this Thursday to discuss the verdict, along with other issues pertaining to the national minimum wage.

Workers, labor lawyers and activists have long called on the government to set the minimum monthly wage at LE1200 (roughly US$220).

The NCW, which has only convened a handful of times since its establishment in 2003, is mandated with ensuring that salaries and wages are kept in line with costs of living. The NCW claims that since 2008 the minimum wage has been set at LE355 (roughly US$65) per month.

In a related development, over 1000 employees of state-run Information Decision Support Centers (IDSCs), which are affiliated with the Ministry of Local Development, staged a protest outside Egypt's Council of Ministers on Tuesday, where they demanded increases to their meager monthly wages. Center employees earn between LE99 and LE149 (about US$18 and US$27) per month depending on their educational qualifications and years of service.

Some 32,000 employees work for IDSCs nationwide. They have recently staged a total of eight protests in downtown Cairo, at which they demanded wage increases. In April, they staged sleep-ins outside of parliament for 28 consecutive days. In May, they received pledges from the ministries of local development, administrative development, and finance to the effect that their wages would be raised to between LE320 and LE380 (approximately US$58 and US$69.) The Finance Ministry is said to have promised to allocate LE150 million to cover the requested pay raises. Yet the promise has yet to come to fruition.

Hundreds of demonstrating IDSC employees refused to leave the protest site until they had received an official pledge–in writing–to the effect that their wages would be raised, as had been promised in May. They initially vowed to stage another sleep-in outside the Council of Ministers until their demands were met. But they were assaulted by police as they attempted to block the adjacent Qasr al-Aini Street in protest. At least two employees were reportedly injured in the melee. 

Commenting on the Administrative Court’s verdict, Mohamed Youssef, an IDSC employee from the Beheira Governorate, asked:“Since when does the government implement verdicts or laws for the protection of the simple folk?” Echoing Ali's sentiments, he added, “I highly doubt the authorities will enforce this verdict for the establishment of a new minimum wage.”

Attiya Mohamed, another IDSC employee from Beheira, said: “We were supposed to receive pay raises in July or August. But in September, we found that we were being paid the same wages as before. In protest, many of us decided not to accept our paychecks.” He added: “As a result, we haven't received payment for the past two months and are unable to feed ourselves–let alone our children.”

Minister of Economic Development Othman Mohamed Othman, who also presides over the NCW, announced on Saturday that the government aimed to raise the average annual income per capita to US$15,000 (roughly LE82,500) by 2017. Othman went on to claim that average annual incomes would be increased five-fold over the next seven years from its present rate of US$3000 (roughly LE16,500), although few Egyptian workers, peasants or employees currently earn such lofty incomes.  

Ali described Othman’s claims are “unrealistic, irresponsible and unrepresentative of the general Egyptian populace.”

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