Ahmed al-Sayyed, president of the Health Technicians Union
‘Our union represents about 200,000 workers, including radiographers, lab technicians, dental technicians and medical instrument makers.
Until we founded our union, most workers had no one to represent them.
At first we were a small group of activists. We faced a lot of difficulties with the security police, but slowly we built up our numbers.
Finally we held a general assembly with more than 1,000 elected delegates in the Tax Collectors’ union office in December.
There were so many of us we had people standing in the street, and a sound system to talk to them.
We elected a committee with representatives from every governorate [Egypt is divided into 29 governates].
We set up our rules so that the general assembly has final authority in the union, and the elected executive is under its control.
We were in Tahrir Square right from the start and, to be honest, we couldn’t believe it was going to change anything. We didn’t think big change could happen in Egypt.
Of course we all went out with one slogan on 25 January—”Down with the regime”—but did we dream that we would actually get rid of the regime in 18 days? No.
The strength of the repression made people fight until victory. The police were trying to slaughter people on the streets so people asked, “Are we going to die here? No—let’s finish this now.”
We founded the Federation of Independent Unions in Tahrir Square, on 30 January.
We’ve already won so much. We won official recognition for the union after the revolution. We got rid of the old minister of labour and the new minister, Ahmad Borai, has announced trade union freedoms and agreed to sign international agreements on workers’ rights.
The old regime had refused to do this. We can negotiate officially on behalf of our members. The new minister of finance is prepared to negotiate with us.
Of course, we have many unmet demands. All the problems at work are still there. I don’t think these will be solved in a day. We haven’t sorted out the issue of our allowances, or of our wages.
There is a timetable for improvements in training, but these haven’t yet been achieved.
Our members face a lot of problems. Lack of protection from radiation is a big issue, as is lack of basic supplies like gloves and masks for lab technicians.
People work all the time with out‑of‑date, dangerous equipment.
Some of our members have to travel for work to different governorates, but their travel allowance is only a fraction of the train fare.
Most of our members work in the public and private health systems.
They don’t have any choice. If they only worked in government hospitals they’d earn around £30 a month, which isn’t enough to feed their children.
Some people work 18 hours a day. In the private sector, they have no job security. The boss can get rid of them at any time.
We need to improve the health system and the hospitals. We want to extend healthcare to every worker.
In every hospital there are protests against the management, because Mubarak’s state security appointed most of the hospital directors.
In the Pyramid Hospital, people protested and demanded the resignation of the chief financial officer and the director.
Sometimes it only takes a day to make the director leave.’