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Egypt’s informal sector struggles for food amid COVID-19 lockdown

April 8, 2020 at 11:38 am

Egypt’s workers are reeling from measures to curb the coronavirus, and complain that the government has not followed through on promised support.

The government has ordered a night time curfew, shuttered shops, restaurants and cafes and grounded flights coming in and out of the country as it grapples with the global pandemic.

There are 1,450 official cases in Egypt and 94 deaths.

Construction workers, market vendors, tourist workers, restaurateurs, shopkeepers and airport workers are struggling to feed their families and pay rent, felt even more acutely in the run up to Ramadan when business usually surges.

READ: Egypt suspends 90% of national projects over coronavirus fears

Despite the fact that General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi promised 500 Egyptian pounds ($32) a month for three months for workers in the informal sector not registered on social insurance rolls, many say they have not seen this money.

Workers in the informal sector, which is about two out of three jobs, have no social benefits or labour protections and are the most vulnerable of Egypt’s workers.

Workers who spoke to Reuters said 500 Egyptian pounds a month was not enough to cover their bills since the average salary of a factory worker would be 2,000 Egyptian pounds a month ($127).

Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris provoked widespread controversy last month when he suggested that factory workers should sleep on the floor of factories so that they could go to work and contain the spread of the virus.

READ: Egypt to ban Ramadan gatherings to counter coronavirus

He also said that he would commit suicide if the lockdown continues.

Some of the affected workers say they have applied for the money but it hasn’t arrived. Others say they don’t know how to apply to the government’s online system.

The tourism industry has been particularly hard hit since it constitutes around 20 per cent of GDP and in 2018/19 generated $12.5 billion.

Tourist Minister Khaled Al-Anani has said that March salaries would be paid but the Egyptian hotel workers coalition say they have seen nothing so far.

Another major concern is remittances from Egyptian expats abroad, which usually amount to around $25 billion, which could be reduced as the Gulf countries enforce their own lockdowns.

A third of Egyptians already live below the poverty line and earn less than $2 a day.