Egypt’s labor dilemma is that our workers consistently strive to increase their incomes in order to cope with inflation, without offering to enhance their productivity, and often without giving any thought to the profitability of their employers’ businesses. In Egypt, offering a real job to a beggar is usually sufficient cause for him to walk away. Most beggars believe they already have jobs, spending long hours on Cairo’s crowded streets begging people for a few pounds to help them survive.
Likewise, for government employees (a third of Egypt’s labor-force), the offer of a position in a private sector firm, at a substantially higher salary but without the lifetime job security that comes with government employment, constitutes a losing proposition. Obviously, every worker would like to continue doing what he or she is comfortable with, irrespective of the added value to our economy.
For most Egyptians, obtaining a secure position and a steady, reliable monthly salary is a nonnegotiable goal. In return, they offer their physical presence at work. The big picture, which includes employees’ productivity and the work entity’s profitability, is of less concern to our labor force. Our workers want their wages to meet the rising cost of living, regardless of the productivity or profitability of the entities that employ them.
Egypt’s labor challenge is portrayed in its public sector. It not only has to do with the hundreds of loss-making companies, but even more with the mindsets of Egyptian workers and their executives, who are still defending socialism.
Meanwhile, the government — which is supposed to be educating its workforce, teaching workers to be true entrepreneurs and encouraging them to abandon their public-sector mentality — is instead further advancing their desires by hiring unneeded labor and financing losing entities.
If the Egyptian workforce wants a higher income and a better standard of living, it needs to exert every effort to turn work entities into profitable enterprises.
Egypt’s public-sector dilemma began in the 1960s with the nationalist aim of making our country one of the world’s leading industrialized nations, able to produce a wide range of products to minimize reliance on foreign goods. A closed market was one of the prerequisites of this nationalist outlook.
It resulted in distancing us from adopting better, more advanced technologies and implementing modern management systems. Our inability to produce competitive products has trapped us into the loop of reducing product quality to ensure that goods are affordable to limited-income consumers.
New graduates who join Egypt’s workforce will find that they need a substantial salary increase a few years later as they have a family and children to support. But their work input and the experience they have gained do not justify the rate of salary increase that they will eventually require. The clear gap between our work input and output has been widening, resulting in huge debts in citizens’ incomes and the national budget.
Possessing a smartphone or a satellite TV is no longer considered a luxury associated only with a capitalist lifestyle. Yet low productivity or limited capacity in the workplace are perceived as acceptable behaviors that employers must put up with. Closing the gap between employees’ low productivity and their living needs is viewed as a government responsibility.
Egypt’s workforce needs to acquire a better understanding of socioeconomics. If workers desire a higher income and a better standard of living, they need to exert every effort to turn their work entities into profitable enterprises.
This is not a challenge that the top management must resolve alone — it is a common responsibility. Moreover, the government must have a clear economic vision that applies either a capitalist or a socialist policy, and it must seriously undertake to harmonize citizens’ needs and desires with their work inputs.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom.