Employees at the American University in Cairo (AUC) began a strike on Sunday against “mistreatment” and the university administration’s “dismissal of previous agreements”, the strikers’ committee said.
The most important demand, the workers said, relates to work contracts. After a 2010 workers’ strike, AUC workers and the administration decided that new workers are to initially sign one-year contracts upon first becoming employed at the university.
After the first year, contract renewals are to be set for three years, an agreement the workers say was not implemented.
“We documented this in bylaws,” one of the workers said. With more employees being laid off by the university, many have not been getting their contracts renewed despite the university’s earlier promises.
However, over the past three years, the AUC administration has been claiming a budget deficit. According to the workers, the administration’s attempts to control this deficit have hit them the hardest.
In these budget cuts, the number of housekeeping workers has decreased from approximately 300 workers to 180, while the workload has remained the same, workers said.
Another problem is promotions. According to the strikers, salaries are officially EGP 1,500, but the university makes insurance and pension cuts that amount to EGP 600, which leaves the workers with EGP 900 to live off per month.
In addition, MediCare fees increased from EGP 45 to EGP 60 per family member. “This could really eat up your salary, and if you decide to leave you’re likely to lose your pension. Some of us have been working here for up to 10 years and longer, when this campus was just being built and it will be a lifetime wasted,” said Mohamed Ahmed, one of the workers.
In 2010, the workers also demonstrated against low-wage/over-time hours. This problem remains they say. “Because of the budget deficit, we can now only work a maximum of 48 hours over-time,” Ahmed said.
Another worker added that budget cuts are “ridiculous as they are not giving us the agenda they used to give us at the beginning of every year, and asking us to wear our older uniforms, and we accepted it”.
“I just don’t understand. If your budget deficit is so bad, why don’t you cut back on something else? There are people here that get over EGP 10,000 just for sitting in offices signing papers and drinking Nescafe. Why do you go to the person with the lowest salary?” said another worker, who preferred to remain anonymous. “Their salaries don’t amount to anything compared to the others.”
Several workers stated they did not want to write their names because they believe that if administration found out, they may easily be fired “for any other excuse”.
As they demonstrated across the New Cairo AUC campus, the workers stated that the AUC does not live up to the “American values it claims”, adding that there is no “justice nor transparency”.
“Why is the gap in our wages so high?” one of the workers said. “Meat doesn’t cost less if you are a worker”.
Another housekeeping worker, Nasser, said he came to Cairo from Aswan to work in AUC. He added that he thought AUC would be different, and that people outside make assumptions about those who work in AUC. Yet Nasser’s salary after insurance cuts is EGP 900, his rent is EGP 500, and he has three children.
The strike is set to resume on Monday. The administration hired a company to fill in for the workers during these two days.
AUC president Lisa Anderson could not be reached for comment.