A solidarity campaign with the 26 prosecuted workers of the Alexandria Shipyard company has been receiving worldwide support. Major labour and trade unions and parliamentary leaders in Egypt, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland signed the petition calling for the release of the shipyard workers.
The campaign argues that the shipyard workers, currently investigated by military prosecution, are civilians. Thereby, they should be tried in a civilian court. The campaign also states that there is no law or article in the constitution that criminalises peaceful protests.
The workers staged a sit-in from 22 to 23 of May at the Alexandria port, protesting work conditions.
They demanded the payment of bonuses, which the company refused to pay, including profit shares for the past four years, permanent contracts for 36 temporary workers, who should have already received them by law, and health insurance. The workers also demanded the dismissal of the company’s general manager, as well as restarting production of stalled lines of the yard, and allowing workers to receive promised promotions.
They demonstrated against the deteriorated pay, as well as inadequate safety and health care procedures in the company.
On 24 May, the company’s administration refused to meet the demands. They imposed a lockout by security forces, and all productions and services at the yard were brought to a halt.
On 25 May, 26 of the protestors were shocked to receive a summons by military prosecutors. Explained by Mohamed Awad, a lawyer from the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) who is representing the workers, the Alexandria Shipyard was originally established as a state-owned facility in the 1970s, but the Ministry of Defence took over the factory in 2007. That is why the workers were summoned in front of a military court.
Awad said that the employees were arrested for preventing other workers from doing their job, as well as halting production. The accusations were defined under Article 5 of the Constitution, which states that any employee facing one of these charges─instigating strikes, delaying production, or preventing others from working─is to be presented and tried in front of court.
“The workers were accused of instigating strikes, obstructing production, and preventing other workers from pursuing their work,” Awad told Daily New Egypt. He said that the workers insisted that they did not participate in any work obstruction.
On 27 May, the Dockers Federation issued a statement “condemning the repression, abuse, imprisonment, and military prosecution suffered by workers at the Alexandria Shipyard company for simply demanding improved living conditions.”
Out of the 26 workers on military trial, 13 men and one woman have handed themselves in and have been attending the court’s hearings in Alexandria. However, the woman was later discharged on bail.
The remaining 12 workers have not appeared before the court yet, Awad stated. According to the ECESR, the rest of workers did not hand themselves in when they saw their fellow workers arrested and imprisoned across different prisons.
Suzanne Nada, an Alexandria-based lawyer for ECESR, said: “Although the company falls under the authority of the Ministry of Defence, the case is a military trial under Article 5 of the Constitution. However, this does not change the fact that the workers of the shipyard are Egyptian civilians.”
Up to this day, ten labour and professional unions, nine political parties and political movements, and nine human rights organisations and groups signed a petition entitled “Against the military trials of the workers”.