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“Against 32” Conference Coverage: Egyptian Workers Firmly Stand against New Investment Law

At the conference “Against 32”: Workers stand firmly against immunizing corrupt contracts

In collaboration with a number of workers and syndicalists of the companies that have been privatized and exposed for sale, ECESR held a press conference on Saturday (May 10, 2014) to announce their firm rejection of the law protecting the corrupt contracts, known as Law 32/2014, which was promulgated on 22 April. The law prevents any third party from challenging the sale and investment contracts entered into by the State with any entity or investor.

The participants declared that the law prejudiced the right of workers and their advocates to detect contracts marred by suspicions of corruption—pointing out that the law not only violated this right, but halted all appeals brought before the Administrative Court. This, of course, includes the consequent immunization of previous contracts and grants the state the right to continue concluding more contracts that waste state assets and natural wealth. Needless to say, these assets belong to citizens and they have every right to supervise them especially at a time when the government is trying to usurp and take them out of their hands, not to mention putting the judiciary aside in this process, particularly the administrative court. It is noteworthy to remember that the ECESR clients have received court rulings in their favor, which overturned many of the corrupt contracts and returned a lot of factories and companies that were sold in suspicious circumstances.

Khalid Ali, lawyer, took the floor and said: “all the companies that we filed cases on their behalf were profitable prior to the sale, which is contrary to the law.”  What is the added value from selling a profitable factory to an investor? He wondered. “We are not against investment, but investors do not build new plants but waste industries that were in the past ones of the most important industries in the world,” he added. In the same context, Sayyed Hamid said that we did not know the reason for taking the government’s decision to sell our company despite being a profitable one at the time of sale.

“The government is against the workers to be in politics, and against raising their voices to claim their rights under the pretext that they are sectorial claims. I am for sectoral demands as they reflect the legitimate rights of workers,” he declared.

Ali pointed out that the law 32 was part of an integrated system to reproduce the same previous policies; the law confirmed that the previous policy was honest and the problem lied in those who lodged lawsuits. Unfortunately, this is reinforced by the media in addition to the fact that workers usually bring actions before the courts on their behalf and not on behalf of any party or lawyer as the regime claims, he added. What hurts the government and the President if there is a bench of seven judges handing over a ruling in favor of returning the company to the public sector?

Ali pointed out that the law 32 not only protects the new contracts; it gives the right to form a committee to reconsider the previous judgments that upheld returning companies to the state in order to return them back to businessmen once again. “We have no choice but to appeal to the Supreme Constitutional Court, but overthrowing this law is the first duty of the Egyptian worker—the working class has to move and join forces against this law,” he added. He called for interim President Adly Mansour to reconsider the law and said, “When there is suspicion of corruption in the concluded contracts, the Egyptian judiciary is the competent authority to consider and determine whether or not the contract is invalid.”

Ali ended his speech, saying: “The investment attraction should not be at the expense of workers, we need a just law for workers; we need a law that watch and control contracts, which provides for the right of people to supervise the whole process.”

On behalf of Nubaseed Company workers, Ihab Khalil took the floor and said, “There is suspicion of corruption in the contract of sale of our company, which entered into between the investor and the government represented by Atef Ebeid.” He accused the Interim President and Minister of Agriculture of protecting the corrupt businessmen who looted Nubaseed Company. He stressed that the workers’ management of the company through a committee formed by the Ministry of Agriculture has made high profits that paid off the company’s debts and paid all overdue salaries to workers and their financial entitlements.

Telling Portland Cement story, Mohammed Hamid said: “When the company was sold in 1999, it was a profitable one. However, the government sold it to foreign investors to get the subsidy and profits, while ultimately the country and workers were the losers.” He stressed that the Alexandria Cement workers refused the policy of immunizing corrupt contracts, protecting businessmen and insulting Egyptian worker.

Ragab Aboul Gheit of Starch and Glucose Company explained the disasters of privatization. “Our company’s sale was for no apparent reason on the part of the government and the privatization project has only increased unemployment. Although the factory license has been renewed, the plant is off and there are no workers. For example, I was fired arbitrarily because of the cases I brought before courts. For the same reason the company’s administration is negotiating with me to compromise and drop the cases in exchange for reinstating me.” “The officials abide by the law when it is only in their favor, but if it is in favor of the workers it is not implemented,” he said.

On behalf of Tanta Flax Company, Hisham Abu Zeid said: “After suffering for years we got a court ruling that upheld returning the company to the public sector, but so far the workers are still sacked and no money were pumped to the company for investment. We will not achieve our demands unless workers unit together and join forces, regardless of whoever will assume the presidency and power. “

Nagy Rashad, a worker at South of Cairo Mills and the client of the famous minimum wage lawsuit, said: “We need laws for workers; we do not need corrupt laws that derogate from the rights of workers, such as the Protest Act and the law immunizing contracts. We need a new labor law.”

On behalf of Towards a Just Labor Act campaign, Mohamed Abdeen talked about the importance of enacting a new labor law instead of the law 12/2003, which protects investors and derogates from the rights of workers. “The law immunizing corrupt contracts is unconstitutional and maintains the Mubarak regime and his cliques; so we reject it and invite all the concerned parties to participate in our campaign in order to pressure for the implementation of a just labor law as a first step to a fair labor relationship.”