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Reservoir workers strike in Sudan raises harvest season worries

Reservoir workers in the Sudanese Ministry of Irrigation insisted on carrying out their announced strike for a until their demands are met, raising great concerns about the country’s water sector.

AlTaghyeer: Khartoum: Elfadil Ibrahim

The reservoir workers’ has raised fears of it affecting the agricultural season’s projects dependent on irrigation, especially in the Gezira and Manaqil projects, in addition to fears of a decline in electrical supply, amid warnings of the inevitability of a real catastrophe that may occur during the flood season.

Only a few weeks separate the flood season from arriving, in the absence of information-sharing between Sudan and Ethiopia in regards to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam logistics, which requires daily and continuous monitoring of water levels.

The workers’ strike at 6 of the country’s main reservoirs coincides with the coming of the rainy season, in addition to the inflow of a large volume of water from the Ethiopian plateau and Lake Victoria on its way to Sudan, which portends a major catastrophe that may result in entire cities sinking if the striking workers do not resume work.

The workers on strike are responsible for opening and maintaining the reservoir’s gates for water storage. Their strike could very possibly bear catastrophic consequences on water generation, and a deficit in that regard could lead to a complete shutdown of all reservoir operations.

Significant Impact

A source told AlTaghyeer that the announced strike of the reservoir workers would be very effective because these workers, who number about 5,000, control the country’s main water reservoirs and dams and are responsible for their operation, maintenance, and safety.

The striking parties include 8 steering committees in the Ministries of Irrigation and Water resources in Khartoum and Gezira state, the Dams Implementation Unit, the Steering Committee for Drinking Water and Sanitation, and the Steering Committee for Drilling, in addition to the Meteorological Authority, the National Equipment Manufacturing Company, and the Joint Nile Water Authority.

A few days ago, workers refused a order for irrigation supply to the Gezira project for 3 million cubic meters for the summer season, and before that, an order for the same project in of 2 million cubic meters of water for the tanks was also refused.

The strike, according to those interested, will also negatively affect the electricity supply, which depends in large part on hydroelectric generation.

The source confirmed that the strike will be for a week, after which it will be open until demands are met, the most prominent of which is the improvement of workers’ conditions.

He stressed that their demands are service demands and have nothing to do with politics. He pointed out that the problem began since during the era of former minister Yasser Abbas, who was presented with a number of memos, which he ignored according to the source. The matter then worsened as a result of the current economic conditions in the country and the low salaries of workers in the treasury sector.

Origins of the Case

The association of reservoir workers explained to AlTaghyeer that the problem started after the appointment of the first post 2019 revolution government, right after separating the Ministry of Irrigation from dealing in matters of electricity in accordance with Constitutional Decree No. “70” for the year 2019, and instead pinning the task on the Ministry of Energy, a then newly formed ministry after having split from Irrigation.

The cause of the protest, as per the association, was due to low salaries, incentives, and allowances from the Ministry of Irrigation, in contrast to larger salaries handed to workers in electricity companies, which are “5” times those given to irrigation workers.

In 2014, former Irrigation minister Moataz Moussa issued a decision according to which the management of reservoirs was transferred to the Water Generation Company with the aim of having a single unit to facilitate coordination between them.

Accordingly, the tanks became affiliated with irrigation in accordance with Resolution 257 for the year 2020 AD, and the workers were transferred from the Water Generation Company to the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources a final time.

Although it is a required in the civil service that all parties agree to the transfer, the workers, who are also included in the consent clause, rejected the decision because they deemed it to have “lower terms of service” than before.

The workers confirmed that they submitted a memorandum rejecting this decision to Minister Yasser Abbas, and that a number of options were presented to the ministry, including establishing a “reservoir company” within the Ministry of Irrigation or finalizing the workers’ service and granting them their rights, and then giving them the choice between re-appointment or relief.

The memorandum fell on deaf ears, which cause the workers to file a complaint to the court 2020, with “15” statements of opposition issued, according to what the representative of the workers told AlTaghyeer.

After that, the ministry started transferring employees who were labeled as “arbitrary” to break the thorn of the protests, which soon subsided for a while before returning again.

A number of reservoir workers stressed that the decision was unfair because the work environment in the electricity companies was better than the ministry and salaries there were higher, for tasks that are the same as the ones they performed at the ministry.

Emergency Committee

The workers’ assembly affirmed that, despite the injustice inflicted on them, they take into account their country’s well-being, and thus decided to form an emergency committee to operate the tanks in case any danger is sensed.

They pointed out that the continuation of the strike would directly affect the summer agricultural season by stopping the workers in the Sennar reservoir from supplying water to the Gezira and Manaqil project.

The assembly expected that the problem would worsen in the coming days, which would also affect the electrical supply, especially with the approaching flood season during the month of July, in light of the absence of information-sharing regarding quantities of water flowing into Sudan from the Ethiopian plateau after Addis Ababa stopped cooperating with Khartoum in that regard.

This, according to the workers assembly, will cause the reservoirs to operate on a “day by day” basis, which is dangerous and can lead to catastrophic flooding.

The treasury workers’ gathering revealed meetings by security committees in many states to consider the workers’ demands contained in the memorandum, as they were submitted to the Sovereignty Council for discussion, while some complained of harassment and threats of legal measures against the striking workers, amid news of the formation of a committee to solve the problem through negotiation with the workers.

Accountability

A number of workers demanded accountability from the Committee on the Separation of Workers and the Committee on the Separation of Assets, which caused damage to workers and the property of tanks, and the formation of a joint committee from the Ministry of Irrigation, the Sudanese Water Generation Company.

In addition to calling on the Sovereign Council, with its military and civil parts to intervene urgently and return the situation to before August 2020, and lift the injustice on the shoulders of the workers in the treasuries as a result of the hasty and ill-considered decisions that led to the displacement of competencies, from both expertise and cadres.

A number of striking workers explained that they are practicing hard and dangerous work, which includes diving and staying under water for periods of time, as they dismantle, maintain and clean tank gates, and then reinstall them, and help electricity workers lower and connect generating pumps in order to generate water.

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