For 26 years, the minimum wage of Egypt has stayed exactly the same. Despite a rise in the price of food and other commodities, the minimum wage in Egypt remains steadfast at 35 Egyptian pounds per month (about US$6).
The average Egyptian works 48 hours per week, and receives a bit more than 3 cents an hour, according to the 2006 International Labor Conference Report. Such wages leave many Egyptians unable to pay for their life necessities and struggling to survive on a daily basis.
According to the World Bank, nearly half of Egyptian wages are inadequate for basic food needs. Even families with two wage earners have been driven below the US$2 per day median poverty line.
Egypt ranks among the 25 worst violators of worker’s rights according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Workers have protested in front of Egypt’s parliament on a continual basis since February 2010, demanding higher salary and improved working conditions in their workplaces.
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“People here are in need of new salary to live on,” Egyptian aviation worker, Ismael Tawkol, says. “The workers have to accept the wage because what is better, low wage or no wage?”
Ramzi E. Khoury, political analyst and president of the Palestine International News Agency, says, “If you take into consideration the inflation and rise in cost of living over the past 26 years, whereas the minimum wage has remained the same, you get a reliable indicator on the gap that has grown and continues to grow between the poor and the wealthy in a country where poverty is rampant.”
Reforming the Pay System for Government Employees in Egypt, a study issued by the Egyptian Centre for Economic Studies, looks at minimum wage related to per capita Gross National Product (GNP). The study found that the rate of GNP has decreased from nearly 60 percent in 1984 to 13 percent in 2007.
“When the ratio of minimum wage to per capita GNP is compared to other countries, it appears amongst the lowest,” the report concludes.
According to the World Bank, the gross national income of Egypt has risen from US$78.3 billion in 1984 to US$446 billion in 2008. Regardless of Egypt’s economic success, the minimum wage still stands unchanged.
“Wages are a major component of overall consumption and a key factor in the economic performance of our countries,” states the ILO Global Wage Report. “A general trend is that wages have grown at a substantially slower pace than GDP per capita. A majority of countries registered a decline in the share of national income that goes to wages, suggesting a lag between the growth in productivity and the growth in wages.”
Asked if a raise in minimum wage will have negative effects on employment rates, Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead, Wage Policy Senior Advisor of the ILO, says, “If the minimum wage is adjusted on a regular basis but in small proportion, no negative effects on employment have been found. The effects on employment become significant only when minimum wage hikes have been sudden and rather substantial.”
Government officials may want to take notice of what the effects will be on their citizens. Khoury warns, “When working or unemployed parents cannot get enough income to ensure a decent living for the family they at times resort to unlawful means to achieve that goal. In some cases, people resort to radical and fundamentalist religious schools of thought striving to radicalise society.”
Khoury notes that many individuals who do not feel they have been dealt a fair hand in life and do not believe they have a chance for success oftentimes fall prey to political or religious extremism because they are angry at their ‘unfair’ world.
“Great stress is placed on the children of the parents who are unable to make enough money to feed the family. This is a major cause for the high crime rate that Egypt suffers today,” Khoury says.
A MediaGlobal Article