Victory for Egyptian Asbestos Workers
The workers of the Aura Egypt Asbestos Company have won the industrial action which began in June, 20041 when they went on strike to obtain payment of back wages and benefits for colleagues suffering from asbestos-related diseases. The action, the first to highlight the repercussions of hazardous exposures in the Egyptian asbestos industrial sector, raised the profile of asbestos issues in Egypt and was, to a large part, responsible for the Egyptian Government banning the import and manufacture of all asbestos products in January, 2005.2 According to a Press Release form the Center for Trade Union & Workers Services (CTUWS):
Aura Egypt workers launched a bitter struggle in defence of their right to live a clean life free from asbestos and from the fatal asbestos dust. They succeeded to open the asbestos file, thanks to their movement and struggle, which started when they realized the hazardous nature of this material Aura Egypt workers tried by all possible legal means to resist the illegal decisions taken against them by the owner of the company (who withheld wages and sacked workers) Governmental and administrative bodies refrained from performing their duties and obligations towards these workers whose conditions reached a disastrous stage on the 20th of last June.
An agreement was finally reached at the end of August, 2005 between the workforce and Ahmed Abdel Azeem Lukmah, the owner of Aura Egypt, after the workers had held a one week sit-in at the offices of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation; extensive media coverage of this demonstration generated support from activists and members of the public. The fact that the sit-in coincided with the run-up to the Presidential election was also pivotal. In the end, the President of the Republic brought pressure to bear on governmental bodies which, in turn, exerted pressure on the company's owner. The agreement which ended the dispute was signed by Mr. Lukmah, on behalf of Aura Egypt, and representatives of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation and the General Trade Union for Engineering, Metallurgical and Electrical Industries Workers on behalf of the workers. The workers' demands for compensation equal to two months salary per year of service were met with Aura Egypt paying 50% and the government paying 50%. In return for receiving all back salaries, the workers waived the right to bring lawsuits against the company. The workers' claims for medical examinations and compensation for asbestos-related diseases will be dealt with by the National Organization for Social Insurances.
September 3, 2005