Street Gas Sellers: Legality Won’t Bring Home the Bacon

For a standard home, the supplies for water, electricity and phones are undoubtedly fundamental. But considering the equipments by which no house can go on without, gas cylinders would be necessarily added to the list.

If the government puts forth great effort to provide access to domestic needs, it is clearly noticed that gas demand goes far beyond governmental supply.
It is more than common to see an exhausted man riding a bike with one or two gas cylinders and hitting on them with a heavy metal pipe wrench. Housewives are used to this sound every morning; they just realize it is the independent worker who calls to sell the gas cylinders everyday in the street.
A gas cylinder for these street workers is considered a private business that has no ties with the governmental gas supply. It is rather a vital source of income that may slightly help them meet their daily financial and social needs.
Yousef Ahmed, a 50-year-old worker who sells an average of seven gas cylinders per day, says he has been working in this business for more than 15 continuous years with his brother.
“It is a hard job to go everyday and wander in the streets with a bike to sell gas cylinders. I am an old man, and carrying the gas cylinders up to apartments is quite a hectic job for me…but it is my only source of income. I have to bear,” said Ahmed.Ahmed starts his working day at 11 a.m that is when he buys the gas cylinders from the official storage area for gas cylinders to sell them for higher prices.
“I know that governmental storages sell the cylinder for only LE 4.5. I sell it for LE 7 to make profit…people know it is expensive, but they still buy it because it is tiring for them to go and carry it from the main storages,” said Ahmed.
Another gas seller named Moustafa Abdel Rahim believes that he can not find a better job than selling gas cylinders.
“It is the most suitable job I can have. I earn about LE 30 everyday…I know it is not much, but at least I can spend on my family…I never regret working in this business; people can not live without gas everyday and I feel that I am their provider,” said the 35-year-old Abdel Rahim in a proud tone.
It can be noticed that gas sellers classify themselves in different districts and in certain groups.  For Abdel Rahim, one of the major problems between the gas sellers’ community is that some workers sell the cylinders in streets that other workers are known to sell in.
“Most of the people in the district have my mobile number. They even call me to get them the required cylinders every day. It is really frustrating to find another worker selling in the street that you sell in. Every street has its known seller,” said Abdel Rahim.
Despite the increasing number of street gas sellers who depend on the gas cylinder business for their livelihood, the non licensed sale of gas cylinders is considered illegal. An appropriate gas seller should be holding a license from the Ministry of Social Affairs or from Butagazco, the official governmental gas company, to sell and carry the cylinders to houses.
Mohamed Mahgoub is a 32-year-old street gas seller who is fully aware that this business is legally prohibited, but said he wont quit because it is his main source of income.
“I know I can go to prison for selling gas cylinders because I should be following the official governmental gas company. But I can’t have another job in this country and there are no other solutions for my financial conditions except selling these heavy cylinders,” said Mahgoub while carrying a cylinder from the storage to one of the houses.
Mahgoub assured that despite its illegal nature, most of the gas sellers have some deals with the workers at the main governmental storages that facilitate the process of getting the maximum amount of cylinders from the storages.
“People in the governmental storages know that we sell the cylinders for high prices. They do not care…they know we are poor and we need to work,” said Mahgoub.
As for Osama Hammad, a street gas seller and the father of six, the labor union has never thought of defending the rights of the street gas sellers, although there is a specific department in the union responsible for the workers of the petroleum sector.
“The labor union has never thought of any solutions for us (the street gas sellers). They know that we have worked in this field for a long period of time and still consider it illegal…I don’t know why they haven’t tried to make a license for us,” said Hammad.
But from the perspective of the government, street gas sellers do not abide to any governmental organization or institution. They are defined as “independent workers who run their own business and work in ‘mafias’”.
Mohamed Saafan, the Secretary General of the General Syndicate for Workers in the petroleum sector, said the labor union can not defend any worker who is not a member in the syndicate. He added that most of the street gas sellers work on their own and are not part of an authorized company.
“The random sale of gas cylinders is a prohibited business. How can I defend a worker who works in an illegal business and is not even a member of the syndicate?” said Saafan.
He stressed that the main aim of the General Syndicate for Workers in the petroleum sector is to protect the workers’ rights from being violated by their employers. But in the business of street gas selling, there is no employer and the syndicate does not have the ability to protect the workers.
“Workers at gas stations are members of the labor union and we defend them in case they face any problems with the owner of the gas station. They work for someone and they have rights that we as a syndicate defend. But a street gas seller is a random guy that works for himself,” said Saafan.
Sources at the Ministry of Petroleum asserted that street gas sellers do not belong to the ministry and do not carry any license that would allow them to proceed with their jobs legally.
“They are just working in mafias. They make good profit from working in this business…but we do not deal with them and we are not even concerned with them by any mean,” said a source at the ministry who preferred to remain anonymous.
Assem El Sayyed, president of the main governmental gas company Butagazco, said gas workers should be holders of a licensed ID that certifies their relation with either the company or the Ministry of Social Affairs. They should also be well-trained on carrying, preparing and fixing the cylinders in the houses.
“What is happening now is that street gas sellers go to the governmental storages which sell the gas cylinder for LE 2.5 and sell it to people for LE 8 and LE 10. This is too much. They are also not trained and do not belong to any governmental structure that set a standard price for the cylinder,” said El Sayyed.
He confirmed that governmental storages can satisfy the needs of most of the districts in Egypt, stating that the country has about 2,600 storages to avoid shortages, but still the phenomenon of street gas sellers exist.
“A gas cylinder is a supply commodity that is very important to the people. Although the private and the public sector properly provide the suitable number of cylinders, the illegal phenomenon of street sellers is increasing and very dangerous,” said El Sayyed.
El Sayyed said there is no proper governmental supervision to limit the dangers of this phenomenon, while the company does its best to raise the awareness through the media.
However, at the end of the day, a gas seller does what he does, not out of joy and love of the job, but out of necessity. “I wish I can have a more proper and legal job than this…but I just have no choice than carrying these bulky metal cylinders on my back…It is the only way by which I can feed my family everyday,” says Ahmed, the 50-year-old gas seller.

By Ethar Shalaby


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