Egyptian Civil Society Organizations Call for Guaranteeing the Right to Organize Unions
The proposed bill for a law on “Workers Unions and Protection of the Right to Organize,” proposed by the Ministry of Manpower and Immigration for societal dialogue before it is passed, is a good step towards the achievement of the demands of the revolution, which included social justice and the guarantee of political and union freedoms as two of the main pillars. In general and in the latest draft, the law guarantees union freedoms and plurality, protecting them from the interference of the state and the executive branch.
The latest draft took shape after three years of negotiations. The law passed through the back rooms of four consecutive governments and its various versions were hidden in the desks drawers of four labor ministers. It also went around the committees of two parliaments and was discussed time and time again with all parties relevant to labor relations in Egypt in the successive epochs after the 25 January 2011 Revolution. This included the existing trade unions, most prominently Egypt’s General Federation for Trade Unions and the Federation of Egyptian Industries representing the business community, in addition to representatives of the executive branch.
There is an urgent and indubitable need to issue this law after long procrastination, exceeding the capacity of the various interests and the relationship between the various sides, which the law organizes. First, the law would treat the current deadlock related to settling disputes between workers and business owners through negotiations. This blockage has caused such disputes to aggravate and persist for long periods of time. It also led to the interference of the state’s security forces and sometimes its military forces to settle disputes by repressing workers. Second, the law is the only way for actually existing unions to become legalized, in addition to its legitimacy as a true representative of workers and being established based on the workers’ free will. Impeding the work of these union organizations is a denial of workers’ rights to choose their representatives and of benefitting from the role that such organization could play in the service of their interests.
In addition to these factors that are in favor of correcting distortions in labor relations, issuing a law on union freedom is urgent and necessary for Egypt to achieve its international obligations and meet its commitments to the ILO. This is in light of Egypt’s return to the ILO’s shortlist of countries violating the rights of their workers, due to the incompatibility of their laws with international standards for the freedom to organize and form trade unions. To this effect, the ILO gave Egypt 6 months to issue a law for trade union freedoms, in accordance with international treaties.
The law enjoys the consent and support of workers’ representatives and the federation of industries, on behalf of the business community, in addition to the executive branch represented by the Ministry of Manpower. However, the interim executive committee charged with the affairs of the Board of Directors of the General Federation for Trade Unions announced its rejection of the draft bill and called for postponing the decision until a new People’s Assembly is elected. It should be noted here that the said committee, whose members were appointed by administrative decree, lacks the feature of representing the workers, since they did not elect it. Its objection must not be an impediment to passing a law, based on public interest, in this critical phase. Currently, society requires concerted efforts to reach the end of the economic crisis, attain social justice, and guarantee the democratic rights of citizens, especially the right to form trade unions based on solid democratic foundations.
The union organizations, political parties, and civil society organizations signatory to this statement emphasize the need to expedite the issuing of a law on union freedoms, based on the latest draft for the reasons mentioned above. They demand from the current government, particularly the Ministry of Manpower, to bear the responsibility of carrying out the role demanded by public interest in this important phase. They also emphasize that promises and delay tactics in taking such an important step could only be a hindrance to the nation’s path to achieving the aspirations of its people, three years after the revolution, for which Egypt’s workers made many sacrifices for their natural right to fair working conditions and a decent life.
Workers and Farmers Unions:
- Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions
- Democratic Union of Egyptian Workers
- Free Egyptian Workers Union
- National Union of Workers
- Federation of Egyptian Farmers
Political Parties and Movements:
- Ad-Dustour Party
- Socialist Popular Alliance Party
- Egyptian Social Democratic Party
- Strong Egypt Party
- Egyptian Popular Current
- Egyptian Current Party
- Revolutionary Socialists
Rights Centers Focusing on Workers Issues and Human Rights:
- Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
- Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services
- Hisham Mubarak Law Center
- Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
- New Woman Foundation