Strikers at the Spinning and Weaving Company. Photo credit: IndustriALL

Strikers at the Spinning and Weaving Company. Photo credit: IndustriALL

Thousands of workers have gone on strike at Egypt's largest state-owned textile company, demanding the payment of promised bonuses from last year and the implementation of an EGP1200 (US$172) minimum wage.

According to the IndustriAll Global Union, around 22,000 workers are striking at the Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla, northern Egypt, while local news reports suggest the numbers are nearer 12,000.

The are also seeking the dismissal of Fouad Abdel-Alim, head of the holding company which oversees all public sector textile firms in the country.

"We have postponed this strike a few times based on unfulfilled promises from the government on bonus payments, and to make sure our strike wasn't used for political purposes," said Mohamed Assad, media secretary of the Free Trade Union at the Mahalla Spinning and Weaving Company, and a young leader of the strike.

"All of the workers are now insisting that the minimum wage be implemented and Fouad Abdel-Alem is dismissed."

On Monday (10 February), the Economic Ministerial Committee approved the payment of EGP157m (US$22.5m) of delayed bonuses - but workers are continuing to strike until the rest of their demands are met.

Prior to becoming head of the holding company, Abdel-Alim was chairperson of Mahalla Spinning and Weaving Company until he was removed after a workers' strike in 2007 demanding his dismissal.

While workers say they can wait for the minimum wage until there are further discussions on how to implement it within the company, they says they will not tolerate Fouad Abdel-Alim in his position.

Around 5,000 women, who make up 25% of the company's workforce, are participating in the strike, which is also being supported by approximately 12,000 workers from five public sector companies striking for the same demands.

The Mahalla workers were a major force in the tumbling of the Hosni Mubarak regime on 25 January 2011. Ever since 2006, they have led the biggest wave of strikes in Egypt in 60 years, protesting against deteriorating working and living conditions and leading the challenge against the Mubarak regime.

The Egyptian government has also been mulling paying EGP5bn (US$725.7m) to restructure indebted state-run textile manufacturers, which employ some 60,000 people.

But this was delayed by political unease surrounding a key referendum last month

In January, Egyptian daily Al-Hayat reported that 12 banks in coordination with the Central Bank of Egypt were planning to provide a loan agreement of EGP50m (US$7.1m) to the Weaving and Textile Company in Mahalla, which has been hamstrung by debt.