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Update: Police arrest 32 workers following dispersal of sit-in at Tourah Cement Company

Security forces dispersed a sit-in held by workers demanding full-time contracts, as per a previous court ruling, at the privately owned Tourah Cement Company in southern Cairo on Monday. They detained 22 workers during the dispersal, arresting 10 more that evening and issuing warrants for an additional three.

Lawyer Haitham Mohamedein told Mada Masr that the 32 arrested workers were detained overnight, and are currently being held at the Maadi and Dar al-Salam police stations. They have been referred to trial, set for May 28, on charges of assaulting a police captain, obstructing justice and using violence to resist authorities.

The workers did not resist arrest or assault police, nor was the sit-in dispersed violently, Mohamedein explained, adding that they should not have been detained for peacefully demonstrating.

Dozens of police personnel, including Central Security forces, were deployed to raid the sit-in on company grounds at 2 am Monday morning.

Mohamadein said they were deployed following allegations that the protesting workers assaulted an officer. The lawyer asserted that the sit-in was entirely peaceful and did not obstruct work at the company.

According to local news outlets defense lawyers attending interrogations have also questioned the allegations that the officer was collectively assaulted by the workers as he allegedly showed no signs of bruising. “There was no medical report indicating that the officer had been assaulted, nor was there even evidence presented to show that his clothes had been torn apart, or anything of the sort,” Mohamadein added.

Several workers went to the prosecutor’s office after the arrests to express solidarity with their colleagues.

One of the protesting workers told the privately owned Al-Mal newspaper on Monday that despite the arrests the sit-in was ongoing. However, according to Mohamadein it was called off after the second round of arrests as there aren’t enough staff to stage protests between shifts.

A total of 75 full-time employees, all employed as security personnel, have been protesting for 55 days demanding full-time contracts, and the retroactive payment of wages. Some have worked full time at the company for up to 10-15 years on temporary or part-time contracts, which don’t carry the same benefits or employment rights as full-time contracts, with wages calculated on a different basis.

The sit-in was initiated following the murder of a security guard at the company earlier this year. He died during an altercation with thieves on company grounds, however the board declined to provide his family with compensation or insurance, claiming he was a part-time employee.

It also follows the company administration’s refusal to uphold a previous court verdict. The workers filed a lawsuit against the Tourah Cement Company’s administration, and, in May 2016, a Cairo Appeals Court ruled in their favor, determining that they were entitled to the company’s profit-sharing scheme, healthcare and other employment rights.

There is a local workplace labor union for Tourah Cement Company employees, affiliated to the state-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), however without full-time contracts the protesting workers are not eligible to join, Mohamedein said. He added that no local or ETUF union members have expressed support of the workers.

A number of labor-related protests nationwide have been dispersed by security forces in the last few months.

In January, security forces forcefully dispersed a sit-in at the IFFCO Oils Company in Suez, and in April police arrested 16 protesting Telecom Egypt workers. In December 2016, police were deployed to disperse two sit-ins at billionaire Nassif Sawiris’ companies — the Egyptian Fertilizers Company and the Egyptian Basic Industries Corporation.

In September 2016, police forces conducted dawn raids on the apartments of bus drivers who had been planning a partial strike, detaining six of them. In May 2016, military police surrounded a sit-in led by workers at Alexandria Shipyard Company, and imposed a lockout on the company. Twenty-six of the civilian workers were subsequently referred to military trial.

Amnesty International issued a statement in April denouncing Egypt’s “relentless assault on rights of worker and trade unionists,” adding, “Demanding your labor rights and expressing your grievances should not be a criminal offense.” The right to strike and peaceful assembly are enshrined in both Article 15 of the Constitution and international human rights conventions that Egypt is party to.

In February, Human Rights Watch also issued a statement criticizing security forces’ heavy handed response to non violent labor protests, calling on Egyptian authorities to either drop charges against detained workers, or change domestic laws restricting the right to organize and strike.

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