Egyptians protest over minimum wage of $6 a month

Protesters clamoured for a boost to Egypt's minimum wage on Sunday.

Egyptians protest over minimum wage of $6 a month

Protesters clamoured for a boost to Egypt's minimum wage on Sunday, the latest in a series of demonstrations demanding help for millions of poor Egyptians and greater political freedom in a tightly controlled nation.

At least 500 protesters from labour unions, state workers and opposition groups gathered at Egypt's cabinet building a day after world Workers' Day, demanding a rise in the minimum wage which has been set at 35 pounds ($6.30) a month since 1984.

Analysts have been watching to see if a spate of recent protests, still small by world standards, can gain the momentum and broader support to challenge a political landscape dominated for almost three decades by President Hosni Mubarak.

Mubarak, who turns 82 this week, has not said if he will run for a sixth term, but there are few signs a viable challenger will emerge to upset Egypt's entrenched political powers.

In scattered protests in recent months, some Egyptians have defied occasionally harsh responses from security forces to demand political change, notable in a country where a long-standing emergency law allows indefinite detention and rights groups complain that police brutality is commonplace.

The government says its allows freedom of expression.

In practice, minimum-wage workers get around $18 a month, but protesters are demanding the government implement a court order that would boost the figure and help millions of poor in the Arab world's most populous nation cope with rising prices.

For many in Egypt, where U.N. figures put gross domestic product per capita at $1,780, the call for political change may be secondary to more basic demands for better income and jobs.

Egypt's economy has grown robustly in recent years, but many people say only the wealthy have benefited. After the world food crisis in 2007-08, which triggered bread shortages and protests, inflation has eased. But workers say their problems endure.

"Prices are rising and workers' wages are declining. Meat has become a luxury item that most of us cannot afford," said Hisham Oakal, a worker at a factory in Egypt's Nile Delta.

In central Cairo on Sunday, protesters, girded by hundreds of members of security forces, chanted "We need wages that are enough for a month!" and called for an end to Mubarak's rule.

Worker protests have grown more frequent, rising from 97 in 2002 to 742 in 2009, the Land Centre for Human Rights reports.

Despite their limited support from Egypt's giant workforce, some political analysts say such protests could spawn new alliances and create more of a political challenge ahead of upcoming elections.

"This is why coordinated protests over one unified goal, raising the minimum wage, has the potential to galvanise disparate groups across sectors," analyst Ahmed Naggar said.

Investment Minister Mahmoud Mohieldin has said labour protests do not pose a risk to local or foreign investment since they are focused on wage and contract demands at specific firms rather than a more broad nationwide movement.


Reuters

Last Mod: 03 Mayıs 2010, 08:49
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