Egypt's informal workers say government coronavirus aid not enough to see them through crisis

Egypt's informal workers say government coronavirus aid not enough to see them through crisis
Government aid of 500 Egyptian pounds will not be enough to pay the bills, workers have said.
3 min read
07 April, 2020
Around 1.5 million Egyptians have registered for government support [AFP]
Informal labourers in Egypt have complained that government aid designed to see them through the coronavirus crisis will not be enough, with many also unsure of how to claim the $32 a month assistance.

More than a dozen workers interviewed by Reuters said the promised assistance of just 500 Egyptian pounds ($31.74) a month would not cover their bills.

A typical unskilled factory worker earns around 2000 pounds ($127) a month, businessmen say.

"I have five children in school. I haven't worked in 16 days," construction worker Yasser Nagi told Reuters

Before the pandemic, Nagi could earn up to 150 pounds ($7.7) a day but now he says he has to borrow money in order to feed his family. He added that he had applied for government aid but has not yet received any money.

Such workers make up a huge portion of Egypt's economy, with around two-thirds of jobs in the informal sector, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Analysts say deploying aid to unregistered workers will also be a significant challenge, whether or not the financial package is in itself sufficient.

Cairo has launched an online system to help irregular workers, including construction and port workers, claim the monthly payment. 

But several told Reuters they had not yet figured out how to apply or were still waiting for approvals.

"I applied ... and they told me to come pick it up in two days. I came after two days, and they told me to come in a week," Khaled Ibrahim, a 58-year-old who works in a cafe that closed, told Reuters.

"I need to pay my rent [but] I can't," he said, waiting in line with 15 others at a post office.

A spokesperson for the schemed said that once workers applied they would be assessed for eligibility by a committee headed by the prime minister.

He said that, while the government had not yet finalised its own procedures, non-governmental organisations had screened applications and approved several thousand.

Around 1.5 million workers have registered so far, Mohamed Saafan, the Minister for Manpower, told a local television station.

Egypt's total workforce consists of around 30 million people.

Cairo has reported more than 1,300 confirmed Covid-19 cases, including 85 deaths.

Last month, a journalist working for British daily The Guardian was forced to leave Egypt after she cited a Canadian scientific study that said the country was likely to have many more coronavirus cases than reported by authorities.

The journalist, Ruth Michaelson, was advised last week by Western diplomats that Egypt's security services wanted her out of the country immediately, the Guardian said.

Michaelson's March 15 report cited a study from University of Toronto infectious disease specialists, which estimated an outbreak size of 19,310 cases in Egypt.

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