01 March, 2009

Egyptian National Railways: "The workers' demands took us by surprise"

Al-Masry al-Youm published an interview with top officials of the Egyptian National Railways yesterday, including the general manager Mahmoud Samy. Responding to the question why the company didn't look into the workers demands and attempted to settle the conflict before the recent strikes, in order to protect the interests of the passengers, he says: "First of all, we don't have the financial resources for any new demands from the workers, and when we decided the budget for 2008/2009 no demands existed, either from drivers or others. We were taken by surprise by the demands in late November, and explained to the union that there was no additional resources."

This is a blatant lie, since protests occured on several occasions before November, for example in Februari 2008 and December 2007. But more importantly it's also a sign of the ineffectiveness of the state-controlled union in giving a voice to the workers. If Samy can claim he didn't know of any demands, it's because the union officials refused to transmit the demands and grievances of the workers.

The interview also revolves around the issue of privatization. The restructuring of the ENR has led to speculation that parts of the company will be privatized. Mahmoud Samy denies this is the case, and says the restructuring merely represents an introduction of "private sector thinking" in the administration of the railways. But he does say that if any investor wanted to establish a new line or run a train outside the existing schedule, he would be "welcome" to do so.

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