Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Note that Said and Saleh are probably considered relatively privileged in terms of their employment, as both have held their jobs for many years. If conditions for them are this bad, one can only imagine what life is like for the millions of other Egyptians relegated to the informal sector.
Striking workers in the state-owned Cairo transport authority took to the streets to demand a pay increase and benefits such as free hospital care.
Among them was Ahmed Said, who has worked as a driver for the company for 18 years. His take-home pay is about £60 a month, of which more than half goes on rent. He feeds a family of five on the rest.
There is just enough money for food. We have meat once a week but not all weeks. Some days we do not eat dinner. If a child goes to the hospital and we have to pay for that, then me and my wife do not have a meal, he said. This is wrong. How can Mubarak be worth so much and we have so little?
He said that after years of staying silent out of fear of the pervasive secret police under Mubarak's rule, he would not now be intimidated. Before, we had to be careful. We would be arrested. But now we can talk. We need food. We have been on strike four days. The army cannot stop us, he said.
Another transport worker, Hatem Saleh, waved a wage slip that showed he earned E£238 (£25) in basic pay last month, with E£225 (£24) in overtime and bonuses. Again, more than half goes on rent.
Saleh entered the flat he shares with his wife and two teenage daughters, and opened the fridge.
We have a big fridge, but look, it is empty. What is there? Some vegetables. Not enough vegetables for more than two days. We have some bread. We have not had meat in two weeks because we had to pay some money for my daughter's school. If we buy clothes, we eat less. How can this be when I have worked for nearly 20 years? he said.