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Alexandria Shipyard workers could face military prosecution for sit-in

Military prosecutors in Alexandria have summoned 26 civilian workers, engineers and administrators from the Alexandria Shipyard Company for questioning on charges of instigating strikes and obstructing production. Thirteen of the workers were remanded into detention for 15 days on Thursday pending investigations.

The arrested workers’ family members wept outside the military prosecutor’s office in the Bolokly district of East Alexandria as their relatives were transported to detention, the privately owned Al-Mesryoon news portal reported on Monday.

The 13 workers who are not in detention but were summoned for questioning have not yet handed themselves over to the authorities, according to Mohamed Awad, a lawyer from the Egyptian Center for Social and Economic rights who is representing the 26 workers.

A majority of the nearly 2,500 employees at the Alexandria Shipyard Company staged a sit-in at the Port of Alexandria from May 22-23 in protest against the non-payment of the national monthly minimum wage, overdue profit-shares and their annual Ramadan bonuses. The workers further demanded health insurance and the dismissal of their company’s chief administrator.

The chief administrators of the state-owned Alexandria Shipyard Company have largely refused the workers’ demands. Military police units and Central Security Forces were deployed in and around the company to intimidate the protesting workers. On May 24, security forces imposed a lockout on the shipyard, bringing all production and services to a halt.

Military prosecutors could charge the workers with violating of Article 124 of the Penal Code, which stipulates prison terms ranging from three months to one year and/or fines of LE100-500 for civil servants who deliberately refrain from performing their duties at work. However, this article appears to be at odds with the Constitution, which guarantees “the right to peaceful strike.”

Awad believes the potential charges are baseless, as the workers “did not engage in any strike action.” Production and services at the state-owned company were shut down by the management’s executive decision to impose a lockout, not the workers’ protest actions, the lawyer argued.

On May 25, the workers even filed a complaint against the management’s lockout at the nearby Mina al-Basal Police Station, Awad added.

Awad explained that the workers are facing military prosecution because the Alexandria Shipyard Company is owned by the Defense Ministry, which acquired the company in 2007.

A senior general who was dispatched to the Alexandria Shipyard last week to negotiate a settlement with the protesting workers “failed to address their grievances, and treated the workers as if they were soldiers,” the lawyer claimed.

“In a just legal system, civilians must not be referred to military prosecution” or military trials, Awad argued. “Civilian workers, employees or administrators in military establishments should be treated as civilians, not as military personnel.”

Several independent organizations were similarly outraged by the detention of the protesting workers. On May 27, the Dockers Federation issued a statement “condemning the repression, abuse, imprisonment and military prosecution suffered by workers at the Alexandria Shipyard Company for simply demanding improved living conditions.”

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information also issued a statement criticizing the arrests and military summons, while the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ services declared that “workers should not be confronted with military tribunals for merely demanding their basic labor rights.”

Alexandria’s shipyard workers and unionists could not be reached for comment.

Several local media outlets reported that a meeting would be held on Tuesday between Alexandria Shipyard Company management and union representatives to work toward resolving the ongoing conflict and reopening the company.

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