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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Egypt

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Egypt, 8 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ea6621224.html [accessed 30 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 83,000,000
Capital: Cairo
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Pressure for change is mounting in Egypt, where the official national trade union centre is losing ground and calls for the respect of workers' rights grow stronger. Politicians and employers have yet to change their antiunion approach. Collective bargaining remains almost impossible and workers have to resort to strike action and street protests. In many cases the police responded with force, beating and arresting strikers and protestors, while employers dismissed workers for going on strike.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN LAW

The right to form and join trade unions is heavily curtailed in law as there is only one legally recognised national trade union centre, the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF). The ETUF has close ties with the ruling party, and controls the nomination and election procedures for trade union office. Not only can workers organising outside the ETUF be sacked, the 2003 Labour Act makes it legal for an employer to dismiss a worker without giving any reason.

There is very little scope for collective bargaining in the private sector, and a collective agreement is only valid if it conforms to the law on public order or general ethics, which is a vague notion that is open to abuse. Legal strikes are virtually impossible. The law only permits a limited form of strike action in "non-strategic" installations, the list of which is determined by the Prime Minister and exceeds the ILO definition of essential services. All strikes must also be approved by two-thirds of the ETUF board, and the union must indicate the planned duration of the strike beforehand.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN PRACTICE AND VIOLATIONS IN 2010

Background: Despite promising since 2005 to end the state of emergency, the government renewed Law No. 162 of 1958 in May, but agreed to restrict its use. Egyptian human rights organisations estimate that around 5,000 people have been arrested under the emergency laws over the last 29 years. Elections held on 1 June for the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament, were marred by reports of fraud and voter intimidation. In October, over 150 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested after it announced it would put up candidates in the 29 November parliamentary elections, which took place with ineffective judicial supervision.

Collective bargaining ineffective or non-existent: The Minister of Manpower and Migration oversees and monitors collective negotiations and agreements. The government sets wages, benefits and job classifications for public sector and government employees. However, the National Wages Council has been criticised for failing to carry out a comprehensive salary review, instead only intervening when the situation becomes acute in a specific sector. One independent trade unionist observed that "there is a complete breakdown of collective negotiation tools at the national level as well as in the industrial sectors and the work sites." In the private sector, where the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) representation is very weak, employers avoid collective bargaining, and fail to respect government decisions on the minimum wage, social security and other issues. The absence of a bona fide national trade union centre makes it very difficult for workers to settle disputes through bargaining; hence, there is a tendency for them to resort to protests and strikes.

Employers and authorities remain anti-union while pressure for change mounts: The wave of worker unrest that began in 2006 continued during the year. Increasingly workers chose to protest in the streets, where it was harder for the authorities to mistreat or ignore them. Strikers at the workplace tend to be severely beaten by the police, on the grounds that their action is "illegal". From February onwards protesting workers camped out outside the parliament and other government buildings demanding higher wages and other rights. In some cases the state security agencies reportedly urged ministries to meet the workers demands in the hope it would contain the protests, and prevent protestors joining forces with the movement for democratic change. On 19 February MP Nasha't el-Qassass from President Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) called for protestors to be shot. (He was later referred to a disciplinary committee).

Monopoly of ETUF over as it lashes out at ILO: In April the government-backed Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) President, Hussein Megawer, criticised the ILO's representative for asserting that workers had the right to form trade unions and to join international labour confederations without restriction, in line with ILO Convention 87. At an ILO symposium he complained that this supported trade union independence. The public sector, where most of ETUF's members are based, is being dismantled to meet the IMF's demands to liberalise the economy. Workers have been breaking away from the official ETUF-affiliated unions to form their own independent organisations, some of which, such as the Real Estate Tax Authority Union (RETA), have gained legal recognition.

ILO criticises government for interfering in trade union affairs: At its June conference the ILO criticised the Egyptian government for interference in labour affairs. The organisation was particularly critical of the Egyptian security forces for their role in dispersing recent labour protests. The ILO noted that the Egyptian government failed to respond to previous complaints by the organisation about repeated interference in the affairs of Egypt's national labour force and that Egypt continued to violate Conventions 87 and 98.

Linen company union leader dismissed: In January the Tanta Linen Company sacked the president of its workers branch union, Mr. Salah Musallem for inciting workers to strike over fears that the company's assets were to be sold. He was dismissed without investigation. The 800 workers responded on 8 January by announcing a sit-in in the company's yard to condemn the management's decision. The workers were critical of the official General Trade Union of Textile Industries (GTUTI) which did nothing to protect the branch union members and their president Mr. Salah Musallem. Security trucks surrounded the company in order to prevent the workers from getting onto the streets. Further protests by Tanta Linen workers occurred in the following months over pay, compensation and unfair dismissals.

In June three managers from the Tanta Flax Company were sentenced to two years imprisonment for dismissing employees arbitrarily, among other charges.

PetroTrade dismisses 60 workers after protest: In January workers at the Petroleum trading service company "PetroTrade" organised a two-day sit-in in the company's Cairo, Tanta, Mehalla el Kobra and Alexandria branches calling for equal pay for workers employed since 2002 and those who were employed starting 2004 whose monthly bonuses were four times higher. The workers asked for a single regulation for all 20 000 employees instead of the two regulations applied on the same job site, causing disparities in wages and other benefits. Instead of negotiating, the company chairman announced that wage system would remain the same.

Workers also asked to exercise their right to form a trade union. The company deducted dues from their monthly salaries (which could be transferred to the account of the official General Trade Union for Petroleum Workers (GTUPW)) yet they did not have a trade union organisation in their company. The company dismissed 37 workers from Tanta, 13 from Mehalla el Kobra, 2 from Alexandria and 11 from Cairo. Many workers were denied entry to the company buildings.

Workers demonstrated outside the Ministry of Petroleum in Cairo on 13 January. Workers in Tanta organised a sit-in for two successive days. The company prevented 900 workers from joining the protest demonstration, but this did not prevent them from organising a sit-in outside the company. The management finally agreed to develop a single set of regulations on industrial relations and wages in the company and to remove discrimination between wages gradually.

Union president fined following strike: In January Ahmed Ghazy, president of the trade union committee at the Egyptian Establishment for Oil Products in western Alexandria, was referred to investigation for encouraging workers to go on strike. He had led a workers' protest in December 2009 over a pay dispute. The owner of the establishment had left the country leaving debts and the National Bank of Egypt took over. The bank stopped paying wages because the company was doing badly. The workers held a sit-in while the union sought to negotiate but the bank refused. After the subsequent investigation of Ahmed Ghazy he was fined five days wages.

Reprisals against leaders of attempted strike: In early 2010 Management at Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mehalla el Kobra implemented punitive measures against leaders of a strike due to take place in December 2009, but prevented by intimidatory tactics (see 2010 edition of the Survey). Three years previously 13,000 of the company's workers had written to the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) affiliated General Trade Union for Textile Industries (GTUTI) withdrawing confidence from their branch union of the GTUTI, which they felt had failed to protect their interests. Instead they elected their own labour leaders to negotiate on their behalf who represented the workers for over two years in negotiations with the management and with other concerned parties until the management started to take arbitrary measures against the group members, penalising them and transferring them.

One of those was Mustafa Fuda, who was dismissed for supposedly calling a strike without respecting the conditions laid down in Egyptian labour law. Another, Abdel Kader el Deeb was transferred to the company's branch in Alexandria even though there was no suitable job for him there. He was not provided with any housing or transport and was obliged to spend more than 50% of his monthly salary on daily transportation. Another, Faysal Lakusha had the annual increment he had received in July 2009 removed, no annual increment in July 2010 and was transferred to the company's branch in Cairo even though there was no suitable job for him there. He was obliged to spend more than two thirds of his monthly salary on daily transportation and was threatened with dismissal if he continued legal action against the company to overturn the procedures taken against him.

Independent union still under pressure: Attempts to undermine the Real Estate Tax Authority Union (RETA) continued. The independent union, which represents 30,000 workers, was officially registered in April 2009. Ever since the government-backed Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) has stepped up its attempts, with the help of the state, to force workers at the Real Estate Authority to join the official union.

The ETUF Board of Directors issued a decision to establish a new general trade union under the name: 'The General Trade Union for Workers in Finance, Taxes and Customs', approved by the ETUF general assembly at the end of December 2009. The ETUF president sent a letter dated 28 February to the Chairman of the Real Estate Authority instructing him to deduct monthly dues from the workers' salaries as from the beginning of January 2010 and to transfer them to the new 'General Trade Union" and to transfer the equivalent of 10% of these dues directly to the ETUF. The new General Trade Union does not have any actual or legal status. There is nothing to indicate the size of its membership, their posts or geographical location, or the election of representatives. It exists only as a decision of the ETUF's Board of Directors.

RETA has repeatedly raised the issue of the illegality of deducting dues from workers' salaries for a union which they did not establish or join with the authorities. However, the Minister of Finance agreed to the demand of the president of ETUF. Dues are deducted every month from the wages of the Real Estate Tax Authority's employees in 15 governorates. Thousands of these workers sent signed applications to the concerned departments stating their refusal to join this official union and to have dues deducted from their salaries. They were preparing to take legal action.

Police use excessive force against Aminsito workers: On 23 May police used excessive force to disperse protesting workers from the Aminsito company. The company, and its 1,600 workers, had been taken over by the Misr Bank after its owner fled, leaving debts. Despite efforts to find a permanent solution on the company's future and that of its workers, workers finally held a sit-in outside parliament for 14 days until 23 May after an agreed compensation package was ignored.

On 23 May representatives were invited to a meeting of the Manpower Committee of Parliament chaired by Mr. Hussein Megawer, President of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF). They were told that "a formula acceptable by all parties was reached". The new package was inferior to the early agreement. The workers' representatives were not allowed to express their opinion and were treated roughly. Workers then marched towards the Misr Bank, where security forces used sticks, water hoses and excessive force to disperse them. Several demonstrators were injured including Essam Abdel Hameed vice-president of the trade union committee of the company and Ragab Khedr el Kholy. Six workers were arrested and detained at el Sayida Zainab Police Station. They were later charged with obstructing traffic.

Forceful suppression of workers' demonstrations: On 23 May police used force to disperse demonstrating workers who were demanding their rights outside the chambers of the Parliament. The workers were from the Al Nubariya Engineering and Agricultural Mechanisation Company and the Egyptian Company for Telephone Equipment Industries. They were forced to evacuate the area and security forces prevented journalists from covering the events. Mustafa Bahgat, a journalist from Al Masry Al Yum, was detained for 30 minutes and his camera taken from him. His camera and other belongings were returned to him after all the material he had recorded had been erased.

Pipe manufacturer dismisses 14 workers for striking: On 27 May the Future Co. for Pipes Industry in 6th October City began retaliatory measures against striking workers. The company's 700 workers had earlier announced a sit-in calling on the company to classify them as staff working with hazardous materials, entitling them to better wages, better insurance benefits and the application of occupational health and safety measures. Several workers suffer from occupational diseases due to the absence of preventive measures and monthly salaries range between EGP 500 (USD 86) and EGP 600 (USD 103). The company took punitive action against 14 of the workers' representatives who negotiated with management during the sit-in. They were suspended from their jobs before being dismissed for organising a strike outside the conditions set down by law.

Textile company dismisses 45 workers for protesting at beating of colleague: In May 2010 Duhan Ching, the Korean owner of Dubeera Spinning and Weaving Company in the 2nd Industrial Zone of Ismailia dismissed 45 workers after they objected to the beating of a colleague. The worker protested over transport arrangements for workers and was beaten by an administrative staff member. The dismissed workers appealed to the concerned government bodies, in vain.

At the same time the owner of the company filed charges with the police, accusing the workers of destroying his machinery and causing a loss amounting to EGP 100,000 (USD 17,190). The workers protested in front of the Labour Relations Office (the local office of the Ministry of Manpower) which began negotiations with the company on returning the dismissed workers. An agreement was reached which included a demand by the owner of the company that some of the "trouble makers" be transferred to different sites. The Dubeera Company has been operating in Egypt for 15 years and does not have a trade union committee.

Civilian workers sentenced by military court after protest: Eight workers from Helwan Engineering Industries Company (Military Factory 99) were arrested on 3 August for leading a sit-in to protest against a fatal accident where one worker was killed and another sustained serious injuries and was taken to hospital. Workers were angry as a similar incident in late July had caused injury to six employees. They demonstrated inside the company, calling on Engineer Mohamed Amin, Chairman of Company's Board of Directors, to resign and to be referred to investigation. Workers continued their demonstration within company premises, accusing management of being negligent. They refused to leave the place or remove the corpse of their dead colleague until the arrival of investigators.

Eight of the protesting workers were detained for four days for investigation. On Tuesday 17 August their detention was renewed for another 15 days. They were referred to the Military Court, despite the fact that all the workers were civilians. The court issued its sentence on 30 August. Three workers were acquitted and two were sentenced to one year imprisonment and a fine of EGP 1,000 (USD 172) each on charges of damaging property. The court suspended the sentence for three years and acquitted them of the charge of assaulting a public officer and abstaining from work. The remaining three were sentenced to six months imprisonment and a fine of EGP 1,000 (USD 172) on charges of damaging property. The court also suspended their sentences for three years and also acquitted them of the charge of assaulting a public officer and abstaining from work.

Police assault 16 teachers during protest: In May the Director of Education in Sharkiya announced he was going to dismiss 16 teachers and threatened to terminate the contracts of other teachers. According to the Director the appointment of these 16 teachers by the former Minister of Education was a mistake that the current Minister wished to correct.

The teachers filed a grievance against the decision with the Ministry of Education in Cairo. Despite discussions and assurances from ministry officials the teachers still found themselves jobless and with no source of income. When they returned to the Ministry on 9 August they did not find any officials ready to discuss their problem. While protesting in front of the Ministry of Education in Cairo on 9 August police officers proceeded to kick and beat the group of men and women teachers from Sharkiya Governorate.

Information centre employees beaten by police: Employees of the government's Information Centres, belonging to the cabinet of ministers, went on several strikes throughout the year to call for higher pay and permanent contracts that would provide health and social insurance. Their action met with police violence.

On 20 October 2010 Information Centre employees holding a sit-in in front of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) were assaulted by security forces who forced them to end their protests when they tried to move to the premises of the cabinet of ministers. Some of the workers sustained injuries. On 26 October the Information Centre employees resumed their sit-in outside the premises of the cabinet of ministers. They were surrounded and beaten by the security forces who used clubs to disperse them by force.

Two thousand Information Centers employees demonstrated on 10 November. One woman demonstrator was beaten by a policeman which led to disturbances between the protestors and the security forces. Security force officers refused to call ambulances when some protestors fainted.

ILO official declared persona non grata by Ministry: The Center For Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS) reported in mid November that the Egyptian Minister of Manpower and Migration had declared Mr. Mostafa El Saeed the Coordinator of ILO's Programme for Promoting Fundamental Principles And Rights at Work and Social Dialogue in Egypt persona non grata, and said he should leave the country. The Ministry accused Mr. El Saeed of "contacting illegal organisations and inciting irresponsible persons in such a manner that led to tensions, agitation and disturbances". The illegal organisations referred to appear to have been the independent unions, set up by the workers themselves and considered illegal because they are established outside the structures of the official trade union organisation.

According to the CTUWS the ministry had pressured staff at the ILO Cairo Office and branch offices of international nongovernmental organisations in a manner that restricted and impeded their activities.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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