Alexandria businessman shuts factories amid dispute with workers

Alexandrian businessman Farag Amr announced Wednesday that he would be shutting down a number of his company's factories that produce the “Faragello" foodstuffs brand, in response to strike tactics used by some his workers which the businessman said were "extortion."

Amr is the owner of the largest chain of food factories in the North Coast of Egypt.

With the recent closure, Amr Group joins the total of 4,550 factories in the private and public sectors nationwide which have been shut down in the political and economic upheaval since 25 January 2011.

Many factories have been forced to stop operations due to labor disputes, and others have stopped working due to a lack of fuel amid national shortages.

Amr told privately owned satellite channel ONtv Wednesday evening that the decision was made in “exceptional circumstances."

He said a small group of workers, led by a driver of a garbage vehicle, had attacked other employees in the company with knives and clubs and forced them out of the factory, forcing them to strike.

“We discovered that their only demand is to be paid the profits of 2014 in advance, which is illegal,” Amr said. “I have been forced to close the factories in order to save the lives of the people."

Meanwhile, labor leaders at the factory disagreed with Amr's narrative. They issued a statement on Thursday morning, which claimed to be in the name of the 15,000 total workers at the factory, in which they denied the truth of Amr's remarks.

The workers’ statement said that a group of other workers affiliated with the management attacked the workers who were on strike, wielding knives and clubs, and a complaint of the incident was reported to the police.

“The management has taken illegal action when it made new seasonal temporary contracts which violates the labor law, and forced workers to sign them,” the workers said in their statement. “When workers refused, the administration suspended them.”

Workers said they had organized many demonstrations to demand that the administration re-hire the dismissed workers, and to protest to the way in which profits were distributed to employees.

“Those are the demands that are described by the chairman of the board (Amr) as illegitimate,” the statement said.

According to the workers, the board of directors at the company has violated labor laws. The company, they said, has not paid out profits or given bonuses to the workers since 2003, with the exception of 2012.

Amr is one of the most famous symbols of the Alexandrian business community and political class, with his former membership at the Shura Council representing the dissolved National Democratic Party and his presidency at the Somouha Sporting Club.

Amr, however, rejected the workers’ accusations.

 “I'm not a man of social affairs," he said. "I'm a man of industry and have committed to paying salaries in the past, but when such a condition occurs, I’m forced to shut down the factory, I do not escape, especially since the police have become incapable of dealing with such cases.”

Amr also said that it was the right of every person to protest and to express their demands. He said he would meet any of the protesting workers' "legal demands."

He said he had attempted to negotiate with the workers through official channels, but they had not altered their demands.

 “Even if among workers those who are inconsiderate, they still are [like] sons," Amr said, adding he deals with them "like a father.”

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