Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Letters from Egypt: New Demands

Now we’re officially in the post-revolution era, but hope is dwindling as far as a revival in Egypt’s economy.

I had dinner last night with two friends that are expats and work with factories in the region. The first demands that brought on the revolution were presidential term limits, job creation and food prices. And now new demands are surfacing for those already (or still) employed.

These two friends detailed how their factories’ productions are almost coming to a halt as workers are continuing their protests in the form of strikes. Employees are now demanding double their salary with the same luxuries offered to expats, but here’s the clincher: they want to decrease their working hours from eight hours each day to seven. However, the factory workers are only pawns, it is the managerial staff that is forcing the demands and encouraging employees to stop work altogether.

One executive went to the root of the problem and asked the demands of his workers (not including the managerial staff). The employees were uncertain of why they were striking. They mentioned taxes, but the leader echoed, “That was corrected in April, have you not been checking your pay stubs?”

So what is happening now?

The owners of the factories are simply trying to appease the workers in order to complete production, but this is only a temporary solution.

I get it. These workers are making only 500LE (around $85) per month and they want to increase this wage to 1,200LE (around $205). The problem is that the factories do not make that money, and instead of receiving 500LE – the workers are eventually going to be out of a job altogether.

Local content is important to any country’s manufacturing/production sector, as well as economically beneficial. It offers employment and generates revenue within the country. The people do not understand that while they may want a pay increase, you can’t have a salary increase without producing more – which also requires efficient work hours. Throughout the world even a regular working day consists of eight hours (echoing Dolly Parton’s “Workin’ 9 to 5”).

Furthermore, being granted the same rights as the expats that were brought onboard would mean an increase in the education level to drive healthy competition. This is not a company’s responsibility.

There is the case that some Egyptians do have the same amount of experience and/or education level as the expats brought in, but are given a lower wage simply by default. This is typically true for an Egyptian-owned company. And all of this reverts back to a point I made in a previous post: you can change a country’s leadership, but you’ll never change a country unless you change its people first.

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