Fatma Zahra’a Abd-al-Hamid is a union rep in Manshiyet al-Bakri Public Hospital. The hospital serves around 1000 patients in a northern suburb of Cairo. Shortly after the revolution the staff set up an independent union representing all grades of health workers from porters to doctors. The union led a campaign to remove the corrupt management and organised an election for a new director.
“I represent the temporary workers. After the 25 January Revolution there were some changes. We had the right to form an independent union inside the hospital. One of the doctors, Mohammed Shafiq had the idea, but we’ve been spreading the idea at every level in the hospital: the doctors, the nurses, the manual workers, the admin staff, both the permanent workers and the fixed-term workers.
I’m a temporary admin worker myself. Every 55 days they give me a new contract. I earn 7 pounds a day [70pence] for a shift from 8.30 in the morning until 2pm. I’m a secretary in the administration of the clinics. My job is to record the arrival and departure of the doctors.
But of course as an independent union we’re trying to improve conditions at work, to make things better. The director of the hospital was corrupt so we got rid of him and put a new director in his place. In terms of my colleagues, the temps, I try and see what their problems are. For example we don’t have health insurance, so we’re pushing to get health insurance and we hope we’ll solve this problem very soon. There were a lot of people who didn’t have a contract, and we fixed that for them. We had a bit of a problem with temps not being treated properly but we complained to the management and now the situation is much better. So we’re trying to raise the general level.
I don’t have the right to any holidays, and we only get any right to holidays when our posts are confirmed. This is something we are demanding now, we want to have yearly contracts or permanent appointments, paid for out of the general staff budget. Currently the funding for my post comes out of a budget for ‘service improvements’, this is money which comes from the hospital’s external revenues.
I had a problem, the director of the Finance Department was aggressive towards me and swore at me. So I complained to the president of the union and we made an official complaint to the management. The union president stood with me every step of the way, and came with me to all the investigations, we presented the evidence, and he got suspended for three days. He is the director of the Finance Department, administrative director grade, who’s been in the hospital for more than 25 years. I’ve only been here a year, but the union gave me my rights, it made my voice louder, and raised the democratic will. That’s why I joined the union.
After the revolution, we found that the issue of democracy and the legitimacy of the majority opinion became an ‘open area’ for everyone. I wanted to have a role in this because I hadn’t been able to do this before because of personal restrictions.
Now we’re spreading the idea of the union among all sections of the hospital and we’re trying to win new members. If there are more than 70 members in a particular section, they elected five reps, and from among those reps, one is elected to represent the section on the union council. There are actually unions for all the different grades, there is a Doctors’ Union, a union for the nurses, and union for the admin staff. But the independent union knits everyone together. In the meetings of the union council, for example, the manual worker rep sits next to the doctors. There is equality. It’s a great gain for democracy. One hundred per cent.”
Fatma spoke to Anne Alexander on 27 October 2011.
This is part of the MENA Solidarity Briefing: “Egypt in Revolution: Women workers speak out”. Read more by clicking on the links below
‘Here are the women’
Building the Independent Unions
Teachers’ unions build unity from below
‘Our strike was 100 percent solid’
Women on the frontline of protest
Media workers fight to clean up state TV
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