'The administration building is our Tahrir' say staff

Sunday, February 27th, 2011
Staff protest

Staff voice their demands to administration during a two day protest early week Photo by Peter Wissa

In a scene reminiscent of labor protests that have gripped the country since Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president, local staff held their own demonstrations calling for better pay and job security.

A six-hour strike took place on Sunday, and continued through Monday, as staff waited for results of meetings with Brian MacDougall, vice-president for planning and administration.

Shoukry Abd El Baey, a theater department staff representative, said that MacDougall had agreed to extend their contracts to a minimum of three years. He also said the administration would grant a 15 percent pay raise in lieu of a similar commitment made by the Egyptian private sector following a Finance Ministry by-law.

A day later, however, staff were angered to find the raise involved only a five percent increase they were already supposed to have received last year. The five percent increase is instead expected to go into effect March 1.

Although MacDougall promised a case-to-case review of the employee salaries, the staff protesters said they would not budge.

“We will not move from here until we get all our rights. The administration building is our Tahrir now,” said Nadia Wahba, a staff employee at the business department.

Staff have long persisted in their demands to get long-term employment agreements or contracts, and to be considered full-time employees.

They have also called for abandoning the system of pay scales and replacing it with wages that are comensurate with qualification and job experience. They have also pressed administration to strongly consider the number of years spent in service at AUC.

Their demands also include closure of salary gaps and a reduction in working hours

Following the Sunday strike, President Lisa Anderson said via email to the AUC community that “salaries of all level 1-9 staff whose salary is currently below the minimum for their level will be raised to the minimum,” providing somewhat equitable wages to employees in the same salary level.

Anderson’s email did not mention the 15 percent rise in salaries, but she asked the community to take into account current budget deficits: “While we share the widespread optimism born of the momentous events of the last month, we must also be cautious.”

“Like many in Egypt, we anticipate a more challenging financial picture, and we will be asking many of our programs to slow spending and conserve resources,” Anderson wrote.

Amal Ahmed, a staff employee, says administration has additionally conceded to consider all staff who work 42 hours as full-time employees.

Pay equity, however, remains a concern.

“Here at AUC, you can find someone who has the same qualification you have and works the same job but receives double your salary,” said Ashraf El-Gohary, the general secretary for the union committee and a staff employee at the school of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

AUC staff said they were additionally disappointed by their colleagues, who did not join the “strike” and chose to stay in their offices monitoring the situation from a distance.

Some staff chanted “come out of your offices, we want to fight for our rights, don’t be afraid” in a bid to solicit support.

Maye Kassem, a political science professor, collected over three pages worth of staff signatures for a petition she was preparing in case the administration did not meet staff requests.

“The strike should not stop. We should collect donations to give these poor employees their salaries so they can continue demonstrating. The university will understand their importance when they stop doing the work,” Kassem said.