The majority of the workers had contracted potentially fatal illnesses from working at the factory. They had all been given a medical examination three years ago but their employer, owner of Groppis, a prosperous chain of cafes in Cairo, hushed up the results. Three years later it was leaked by a sympathetic union official that many of the men were dangerously ill.
A dispute followed and production at the factory has stopped. The workers are owed up to three months wages and have received no compensation. The owner has been fighting for the right to reopen the factory and reportedly has a new team of fit and healthy workers to replace the sick ones.
I returned to the factory a few days ago to find the 54 men living in the same improvised shacks that they were in in December. Since then thewy have received notice that their employer has terminated their employment due to a court ruling that the factory must stay closed (for now) because of health and safety concerns. I brought donations from the community in Brighton toward the continuation of their occupation and to help them to feed their families.
A separate court case has found that a large amount of raw asbestos inside the factory cannot legally be processed. 12 million Egyptian Pounds worth of processed asbestos piping remains at the tenth of Ramadan and the continued occupation is stopping the owner from gainig access to it.
The owner has attempted repeatedly to remove the workers from the site. A few weeks earlier the security contractors, owned by Mahmoud Hartem, employed 16 local thugs to force the workers out. These goondas arrived at the factory during afternoon prayers and announced that they had come to 'chase the dogs from the Tenth of Ramadan'. Fortunately the commotion was heard by the hundred strong staff team of a neighbouring factory who came to the aid of the asbestos workers. The police were called ande the workers were later informed that several of the thugs had recently escaped from prison.
Two weeks ago the workers were visited by the Egyptian Environment Ministry. The workers were able to unearth asbestos waste illegally buried in the factory grounds and tell them how they were employed in unsafe condition with no washing facilities or protective clothing. The Environment Ministry judged the factory unsafe.
The workers have formed a syndicate and are mounting a case for wrongful dismissal and compensation. Their next court date is in May, however their employer has threatened to stall the courts for years to come.
I told the workers about Simon Jones, a student from my university who was killed on Shoreham docks working as a temp with no training and no provisions for his safety. I urged them to carry on their case in the courts and their occupation and bring attention to the condition of workers in Egypt like his case did in Brighton. I know that this won't make their fight any easier for them. They told me they had been visited by Al Jazeera, Lebanese and Egyptian media, the Socialist Workers Party and a member of the German parliament - they say that a lot of peole write about their situation but nothing happens...
If anyone can offer practical support please contact the email address below and you will be passed on to the worker's syndicate. At the moment they desperately need funds to buy food and other essentials since none of the men have any income since the termination of their employment
The Wall Must Fall