Source AP ©

Civil servants strike demanding higher wages in Egypt

Egyptian public servants, worried over rising prices and inflation, went on strike in front of the cabinet demanding to raise wages.

Police pushed the protesters, who work for Egypt's Tax Agency, into metal barracks to prevent them from reaching the cabinet building or the nearby labor union.

"The oldest tax agency is starving to death," read one banner. The approximately 500 protesters chanted: "We need an honest man to tell us where are our rights," and "Where is social justice?"

Over the past year, Egypt has witnessed the biggest spate of labor unrest the country has seen in decades after thousands of workers at a textile mill at al-Mehalla al-Kobra went on strike to protest low wages and soaring inflation.

In September, the World Bank ranked Egypt as the world's most improved economy for investors in 2007, thanks to the new government's wide-ranging economic reforms. The country has seen an average growth rate of 7.2 percent for last three years, double what it was previously.

But even government officials have acknowledged in recent months that the improving economy has not trickled down to the majority of Egypt's 77 million people. Inflation has soared to 12 percent since December of 2006, up from a low of 3.4 percent just a year before. Though the government says it fell to 8 percent last month, independent economists put the real rate at about twice that.

At least 200 instances of labor unrest took place in 2006, according to the Center for Trade and Union Services, a pro-labor non-governmental organization.

The government has taken a relatively softer stance with workers than it generally does with activists demanding more democracy and freedom.

Unemployment remains officially at 12 percent, and the poverty level more than 20 percent, according to the World Bank.

"The rich get richer and the poor get less poor but not as fast," Finance Minister Youssef Boutros Ghali acknowledged recently.

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