In front of the factory of ExxonMobil, in the industrial city of the 10th of Ramadan, workers posted banners saying "No to contracts of forced labour or tyranny," and "The free people of 10th of Ramadan ask for equality between all Mobil workers." The workers of ExxonMobil Egypt have been on strike since 7 April, asking for permanent contracts. The administration answered by suspending work in the factory.
"We had to do so for the safety of all our workers and our entourage," says Nehad Shelbaya, head of foreign relations in ExxonMobil Egypt. "We are inside of the factory, we are not saboteurs. On the contrary, we preserve our factory, we even water the plants," say the workers.
Some 70 workers in the factory producing mineral oils are calling for permanent contracts under ExxonMobil and the same rights as the minority who benefit from such contracts. Some of them have worked with ExxonMobil for 20 years, even before the creation of this plant at the end of the 90s. In response to the strike, the administration decided to suspend all work and has threatened not to pay salaries in April according to the workers.
"They have legal contracts with companies making outsourcing for ExxonMobil as well as for other companies. They are offered good salaries, healthcare and other benefits," assures Shelbaya. Their temporary contracts are with sub-contractors, mainly IBS (International Business Services).
Fathi El-Sherif, one of the workers, shows us his contract with IBS signed in December 2004 but he says he has been working for ExxonMobil for 14 years. "The subcontractors are just names on our pay sheet," he says. "We don’t get any rights, no social insurance, no medical care, we received a profit share for the first time in 2011. But it is lower than our rights."
"Usually, one doesn't get a pension," elaborates Tareq Darwish, a member of the independent union of the enterprise. He explains that the Egyptian affiliate of the giant oil company Mobil changes every few years its subcontractors in order to not to grant to workers their rights, especially on pensions.
"Mobil has just put in place a mediocre system that offers us one month for every year of service, whereas the law stipulates two months," he adds. "Mobil operates in Egypt for more than 100 years and is a company with a good reputation. We use outsourcing companies because they have more experience in recruitment." says Shelbaya.
"Besides, their contract is with IBS; they have to present their demands to IBS. Anyway, we haven’t received any official written documents with the workers' demands," she adds.
According to the workers, one out of 10 is suffering from problems such as herniated discs and similar injuries because of the nature of the work, while they receive no medical care or sick leave. Mohie, with a document in hand that proves he is in need of 10 days sick leave, to undergo and operation, says he has been told to look for another job until his health returns.
The workers of the factory of 10th of the Ramadan are supported by colleagues in the bigger factory of ExxonMobil in Alexandria, that employs some 200 workers. They are also on strike, albeit on different issues.
While Ahram Online got ready to leave, a security worker came close timidly: "We also work through another subcontractor. Working hours reach 12 hours per day and we only receives LE600 per month. It is also unfair," he said.