Workers at Faragalla Food Industries continue to suffer various types of rights violations, awaiting the ruling of the Burj al-Arab court on April 2, 2014, in the case involving the dismissal of fellow workers. The crisis between the workers and the company’s management began when 20 workers were dismissed from the Egyptian Company for Freezing and Beef Processing, the Egyptian Company for Food Industries, and the Egypt Foods Group.
A year of violating workers’ rights
The violations began on February 7, 2013, when management demanded that 7 workers sign on new contracts, as a substitute for their temporary ones, without informing them of the contract details. The workers refused to sign and later discovered that the new contracts were the same as the old ones, but included a provision of a trial period of six months.
The workers contacted their factory union, which asked management to negotiate. In the first session, held on February 10, an agreement to reached to accept the new contracts. This was based on one condition, that the contracts would be for three years following the six month period and that the provision be included in the text of the contracts.
However, the concerned workers rejected the agreement, fearing manipulation from management. On February 17, another negotiations session was held in the presence of a representative of the Labor Office. The meeting agreed that the contracts be switched from temporary to permanent, in addition to a regular bonus. However, the company rejected the following:
- Making the temporary workers’ contracts permanent.
- Declaring profits and their expenditure.
- Amending weekly rest days from Friday to Friday and Saturday.
- Improvement of meals or their cancellation and replacement by a cash allowance.
Following management’s rejection, hundreds of workers went on strike starting the morning of Monday, February 18. The strike spread to 10 factories run by the Faragalla group in the First Zone in Burj al-Arab city. The management retaliated by inciting some workers under its control to assault the protesting workers using cold weapons.
The next day, on February 19, the workers were surprised by another attack. Union members asked management to take legal measures against the perpetrators, firing them or putting them on an open leave. However, management rejected the request, hoping to generate discord and confusion among the workers.
Owner shuts down factories
On the same day, Mohammed Farag Amer, chairman of Faragalla Food Industries announced a decision to close down the group’s plants indefinitely. He also sent a letter to former president Mohamed Morsi, in which he instigating against the workers and denigrating them.
“We decided to shut down all our factories in the Faragalla Food Industries group of companies, in face of (the factional workers’) protests and sit-ins, until the situation calms down” Amer wrote to the president. He described the workers’ protests as “cheap bargain attempts” and “extortion by the workers and moral deviation,” in addition to seeing them as purely “unjustified pressure to breach the law and its provisions.”
After the company refused to investigate the employees who assaulted their colleagues, a group of injured workers went to Burj al-Arab police station and filed report No.1483/2013. The complaint accused five employees of thuggery and assault by cold weapons, under orders of the company management.
On February 20, the head of the Faragalla Independent Workers Syndicate, Magdy Abdel Salam, filed a report in Burj al-Arab police station against Amer for closing down the Faragalla factories and prohibiting employees from resuming work.
When the company found out about the workers’ complaint, it informed of its intentions to reopen and requested that they register their names to resume work. However, the company filed a report against them in Burj al-Arab police station, accusing them of incitement to strike, disruption of work, and sabotaging the company’s equipment and machines.
The five accused workers had also signed on to the list of those wanting to resume work. This is further indication that the company deceived its workers and set them.
In response to the company’s manipulation and deceit, the workers filed another report in the city police station to attest that none of the factory workers had joined the strike through incitement or guidance from the syndicate or other accused workers.
Faragalla’s complaints against workers
On the same day and based on the company’s complaints against the workers, accusing them of damaging the equipment, the public prosecutor visited the factory for an inspection, proving officially that the company was lying.
The company was forced to issue a decision to implement the workers’ demands and fix all employees prior to February 19 as permanent workers. This is in addition to paying the yearly bonus for 2012, the regular January bonus of 7%, and the social allowance. It was followed by another decision to continue work starting on Saturday, February 23, 2013, paying that month’s salaries in full and without discounts, and taking necessary measures to investigate some of the workers, which the company claimed to be behind the events.
Although Friday, February 22, was a weekend, the administration issued a complementary decision to investigate 30 workers, suspend them from work, and prohibit them from entering the factories. The 30 workers found out about the decision when they headed to work on Saturday, February 23. They were prevented by security from entering the company’s premises and asked them to head to the legal affairs department, where they were detained until the Burj al-Arab police arrived and arrested them, based on the company’s accusations.
The next day, February 24, the Burj al-Arab prosecutor issued a decision to release the defendants without bail and with the guarantee of the place of residents, after the company’s own witnesses denied the incident. The prosecutor decided to close the case, so the company filed a grievance against the decision and filed a misdemeanor complaint No.10054/2013. The case was referred to the Burj al-Arab court, which decided to rule on April 2, 2014, after deliberations.
In its suit, the company requested the validation of the decision to fire 20 workers, including union members. To strengthen its case, it pressured the remaining workers to testify against their colleagues, under threat of joining the dismissed workers. The workers were also accused of using force and threatening the company with violence to stop work, cause material and moral damage to the company and its workers, and attempts at persuading the owners for personal benefit.
One year on, the dismissed workers are still subjected to abuse and persecution, awaiting their unknown fate, without work, pay, or health insurance, in addition to the fabricated charges aimed at intimidating them for standing up for their rights and acts of solidarity.