The head of the team tasked with restructuring the operation of Egypt’s leading newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm said that he will not negotiate with the workers protesting a slew of sackings as the outlet seeks to cut costs.
In comments to Daily News Egypt on Monday, founder and previous editor of the 11-year-old Arabic-language outlet, Hisham Qassem, said that the protesting workers demands are “unrealistic” and their “inexperienced” leader has “driven them in to a wall”. On Monday, the workers responded by saying they would escalate their activities.
The privately-owned newspaper plans to lay-off 60% of the workforce, its journalists have said, in efforts to tackle financial difficulties, primarily due to faltering funds from their advertising revenues.
Protesting workers have called on the management to halt the “illegal and unconstitutional” mass sackings, demanding that those voluntarily wishing to leave receive a compensation of wages of four-months for every year of their service to the daily.
The staff members have said that they are missing bonuses, called for compensation for previously sacked staff, and criticised the “threats” of selling the newspaper saying in a communiqué that the workers are a “major part of the paper and made it what it is”.
However, founding publisher Hisham Qassem, who has been drafted in to lead the restructuring , told Daily News Egypt that they will not respond to the demands.
Speaking on the issues of compensation, Qassem said: “The law gives two months compensation, this is not negotiable. For compensation for old staff, all of these cases are in the courts, either the claimants have won, lost, or it’s under investigation. Do the protesting workers intend to open up their own law firm?”
Qassem says that Abul-Saud Mohamed who is leading the staff protest is a “rookie” who has only recently joined the Press Syndicate. “He has driven them in to a wall by drafting unrealistic demands. They gave a 24 hours deadline on Sunday for us to respond to their demands, this has passed and we do not intend to respond to un-negotiable demands. The workers do not own the paper, its private property.”
Qassem added that there is a possibility some staff will be prosecuted for tarnishing the image of the business with accusations they have made online about the management.
Organiser Abul-Saud Mohamed did not respond to various attempts to speak about the movement.
However, following the expiration of their 24-hour deadline, the Al-Masry Al-Youm workers issued a second communiqué stating they will “escalate” their actions until they are negotiated with. The workers said they will begin with a one-hour sit-in on Tuesday and will continue with various sit-ins if they receive no response. They will then escalate their fight to the “responsible state bodies”.
Qassem, however, has attempted to put the blame for the job losses on the staff themselves. “When I used to work here we paid salaries of EGP 320,000 to 120 staff, now we pay EGP 3m for 600 staff and yet we still only produce 16 pages. People have hired their sons, their brothers, many are not industrious and do not show up,” he said.
“They say we are threatening to sell the paper, there is no threat, we have suffered EGP 42m in losses from advertising so that shareholders have had to support the paper from their pockets. If the shareholders decide to sell, there is no procedure the staff can take.”
Qassem also dismissed the significance of business tycoon Naguib Sawiris’ recent comments in which he announced that he may sell his 20% share of the newspaper. “He says this every time there is a crisis.”