Like in many other sectors in Egypt, employees in state-run electrical power plants are demanding the improvement of their working conditions and pay. The essential nature of their work makes their acts of civil disobedience quite influential.
Media reports spread recently about their intention to “darken Egypt” if their demands are not met. Protests have been taking place at four main power plants, North Cairo, West Cairo, Tebbin and Shubra al-Kheima, since last April.
Employees and engineers working under the umbrella of the Ministry of Electricity and Energy say they are facing various problems. Low pay and long working hours are at the top of the list. Other problems include the large number of workers employed on the basis of nepotism and bribery, and the fact that there are no specific criteria for promotion, according to statements made to the press.
“Our main demands are to restructure wages, and to guarantee equality among engineers and employees of different electricity companies in the wages system,” said Ahmed al-Oqeiby, a Shubra al-Kheima power station employee and member of the Electrical Engineers Coalition, a group of protesting engineers.
An engineer who spoke on the condition of anonymity added that well-qualified engineers had been patient about poor working conditions because they would work in Egyptian power plants as training and then get unpaid leave to go and work in the Gulf, where there are better conditions. Some, meanwhile, are hired by foreign contractors at power plants under construction, for which they would also apply for unpaid leave from their jobs at the Ministry of Electricity.
“Now, engineers are complaining that the ministry refuses to give them vacations on that basis and, as in most governmental jobs, employees do not want to resign from stable positions,” Oqeiby said.
He said the engineers submitted their financial demands to the Ministry of Electricity and Energy, and gave them an open deadline.
Aktham Abul Ela, Ministry of Electricity spokesperson, has asserted that protests have ceased as workers’ files are being reviewed to identify who qualifies for due payments. But Oqeiby wondered what system is in use in the review.
The coalition’s other demands include combating administrative corruption. It wants the resignation of leading electricity officials including Mohamed Awad, head of the Holding Company for Electricity, which is the public sector corporation that provides technical support for supplying power.
Oqeiby alleges that expertise at the ministry’s technical authority is waning. He particularly criticized officials for failing to accurately predict future demand for power in order increase production capacity accordingly. This has led to repeated power cuts in the past year. Protesting engineers say they don’t receive training that enables professional development, and that a reverse brain drain of engineers returning from international firms in the Gulf could be useful.
Oqeiby said engineers were surprised by media reports that the protesters intend to disconnect the nation’s electricity.
“We cannot put Egypt into darkness by ourselves,” he said. “How can we do something that is done to a country that is occupied by another?”
Earlier this month, the armed forces sent troops to Oyoun Moussa power plant, which provides Sinai with electricity, to secure it against the threat of power cuts allegedly made by protesting engineers.
“We do not know who spread this rumor. Some of my colleagues think that the ministry might have done it, but who knows? There is no evidence,” Oqeiby said.
In a press release on the current situation, Minister of Electricity and Energy Hassan Younis said no one can darken Egypt, and that electricity workers are aware of their responsibilities.
Egypt is already facing an electricity shortage of about 3000 megawatts, while the increase in consumption is rising by around 10 percent each year. Reports say that Egypt has one of the highest rates of electricity consumption in the world.
Abul Ela announced that the ministry has initiated a plan to ensure citizens are provided with electricity during the summer by adding 1500 megawatts gradually, at a rate of 125 megawatts per week. The overall cost of this project is estimated at LE10 billion.