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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Egypt

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Egypt, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd88953a.html [accessed 19 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: 81,000,000
Capital: Cairo

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Murders: 1
Threats: 5
Injuries: 43
Arrests: 10
Dismissals: 43

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher

Introduction

The fall of the Mubarak dictatorship brought an end to the state control of trade unions but the new military rulers showed little respect for trade union rights. A law criminalising strikes and protests was introduced in March and first used in June to sentence protesting oil workers. Other striking workers found themselves attacked by hired thugs and military police and one worker was run over and killed by a company vehicle during a protest. Teachers who wanted to meet a government official to discuss their demands were threatened with a gun. A textile company dismissed 43 workers for taking part in strikes.

Background

The popular uprising that began in Egypt on 25 January – the culmination of years of growing unrest – led to the resignation of President Mubarak on 11 February. He handed over power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, initially welcomed as the "Guardian of the Revolution". Mubarak was arrested in April and in August went on trial for ordering the killing of demonstrators during the uprising. Military rule proved even more brutal than the dictatorship and fears that the generals were consolidating their power and delaying a return to democracy led to fresh demonstrations in November. There was a very high turnout for the 28 November parliamentary elections with observers noting that voters appeared incredibly patient despite having to wait hours. The new parliament had the task of writing a constitution ahead of presidential elections in June 2013.

Trade union rights in law

Changes are still ongoing in Egypt. The right to form and join trade unions has been heavily curtailed in law as there was only one legally recognised national trade union centre, the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF). The ETUF had close ties with the old ruling party, and controlled the nomination and election procedures for trade union office. Not only could workers organising outside the ETUF be sacked, the 2003 Labour Act made it legal for an employer to dismiss a worker without giving any reason.

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

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Trade union rights to be kept on hold: Shortly after the ousting of President Mubarak and his government, the new Minister of Manpower, Ismail Fahmy, stated in February that "the issue of trade union rights is kept on hold until such a time that the labour code is revised ... the ministry will continue to work closely with the ETUF (Egyptian Trade Union Federation) and its President Hussein Megawer". Mr. Fahmy is a former treasurer of ETUF, the national centre that was controlled by the Mubarak regime.

Official union tries to block workers' involvement in the revolution: When the 25 January revolution began, the immediate response of the official Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) was to set up committees to stop any group of workers wanting to go on strike and join the demonstrators, according to Kamal Abou Aita, president of the independent Real Estate Tax Authority Union RETA . The money the ETUF had accumulated through compulsory union dues and government funding was used to pay the thugs that descended on the streets to terrorise the population. The ETUF representative for the same sector as RETA stated in front of the cameras that they were going to punish the protestors and break the revolution, hurling insults at RETA members, before being stopped by the revolutionary demonstrators.

An end to state-controlled "trade unionism": The Preparatory Conference for the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) was held on 2 March marking the birth of Egypt's first independent trade union federation since 1957. For more than five decades, the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) has been the only federation of its kind allowed by law. The ETUF claimed a nationwide membership of over 4 million workers, most of whom were employed in the public sector. The federation controlled the nomination and election procedures for trade union office, and strikes could only be held with ETUF approval. It had gradually been losing influence in recent years however, in the wake of privatisation and mounting worker protest. Following the ousting of President Mubarak, the ETUF's president Hussein Megawer, along with other federation officials, faced investigation on charges of administrative corruption and union fund mismanagement. In mid-March, interim Minister of Manpower Ahmad al-Borai vowed to allow for union/syndicate plurality. Following the revolution, about 30 fledgling independent unions have attracted an estimated 300,000 members across the country.

Minister allows old official union to represent Egypt at international conferences: In May, the Minister of Manpower, Ahmed al-Borei, announced that the official Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) would continue to represent Egypt in international conferences, despite the State Council's ruling that the ETUF's board of directors was to be dissolved.

Employers still hostile to unions and resistant to collective bargaining: Under the Mubarak regime collective bargaining had been controlled in the public sector by the Ministry of Manpower. In the private sector where the government-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) representation was very weak, employers tended to avoid collective bargaining, and did not even respect government regulations on the minimum wage and social security. Not surprisingly there was no sudden change in 2011, with employers still reluctant to meet or negotiate with the newly formed independent workers unions. As the examples below show, many were hostile and even violent towards trade unionists and any attempt at collective action.

Violations

Suez Cement Group trade unionists attacked by thugs: Trade unionists protesting at the Suez Group for Cement's policy on profit sharing were attacked on 15 March by thugs at the Airport Sheraton Hotel after trying to attend the company's general assembly, usually attended by the board of directors, the company's trade union and government representatives. Mohamed Abdel Monsef, head of the trade union, said he had his leg broken in the incident. According to Mr. Monsef, Omar Mehana, board director of the Suez Group for Cement, hired the thugs to prevent the trade union delegation entering the hall where the assembly was gathering. The unionists were protesting at the decision by the board not to grant workers the 10% of the company's profit share that they were entitled to by law.

Attempts to block creation of independent journalists' union: A day after the Independent Journalists Syndicate announced its (informal) establishment on 22 April, a lawyer for the official Journalists Syndicate, affiliated to the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), filed a legal complaint with the public prosecutor in an attempt to ban the alternative organisation. Under the Mubarak regime, thousands of professional journalists were denied membership of the Journalists Syndicate. The requirement of a full-time contract for at least a year and restrictions on non-print media – along with a host of other prerequisites – have kept the majority of Egyptian journalists from joining. The membership committee also convened infrequently to accept new members on a seasonal basis, and would ask prospective members about their political tendencies.

May Day celebrations marred by violence: May Day celebrations organised by the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) in Tahrir Square, the symbol of the Egyptian revolution against dictatorship and corruption, were violently disrupted. Soon after speakers took to the EFITU's central stage, dozens of people forced their way through the crowds and onto the stage, and began dismantling sound and light equipment. Kamal Abou Eita, head of the Independent Union for Real Estate Tax Employees, and Kamal Abbas, head of the Centre for Trade Union and Workers' Services (CTUWS), were among the union leaders forced to leave the stage.

The violence was believed to have been organised by the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), the former state trade union that lost all credibility due to its links to the former regime and its stand against the Egyptian revolution. Despite the violence the EFITU leadership continued its celebration with a march around the Tahrir Square joined by thousands of workers.

Worker killed during strike at garment company: A worker was run over and killed on 7 June during a protest over unpaid wages and a proposed redundancy package at Mansoura-Espana Garments Company. Around 100 workers had congregated outside the United Bank, which owns the company, demanding that they be paid their May salaries. A United Bank employee had reportedly told them, "Nobody will do anything for you. Go and block the road outside." Workers then moved to block the road, among them Mariam Abdel Ghaffar, a mother of three and an employee with the company for over 20 years. A bus and a truck carrying bricks arrived at the scene, eye witnesses reported. The bus refused to move but the truck ploughed into Mariam and two other women. Mrs. Abdel Ghaffar later died of her injuries. Another woman, Samah Abdel Aziz was dragged along for around 300 metres until protestors were able to make the driver stop. At the time the incident was reported, she was in a critical condition in intensive care after undergoing a five-hour operation.

Five Petrojet workers first to be sentenced under military's anti-protests law:

A military court handed down suspended sentences of one year in prison to five workers from the Petroleum Projects and Technical Consultations Company (Petrojet) on 29 June. The sentencing marked the first enforcement of Law 34/2011, announced by the military in March, which criminalised protests and strikes.

The five: Khamis Mohamed, Mohamed Ibrahim Mohamed, Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, Mohamed Kamal Abdullah and Ahmed Mohamed El Sayed, were arrested by military police on 6 June and charged with carrying out a sit-in protest in front of the oil ministry, along with about 200 colleagues, during a time of emergency. The sit-in allegedly prevented the ministry from proceeding with its work.

The protest was organised after Petrojet refused to rehire the workers, claiming their temporary contracts had ended, though some had been working there for 10 years. The dismissal of the workers came in defiance of the oil minister's decision that the company should permanently hire all temporary workers.

Security guards for the oil ministry detained the five protesters when they refused to end the demonstration and allegedly assaulted and beat them inside the ministry's building. The guards then called the military police to come and arrest them, claiming they had attacked the building.

Military prosecutors asked that the defendants be punished according to Article 1 of Law 34/2011, enforced under Emergency Law, which states that anyone organising or calling for a protest that hampers or delays work at any private or public establishment will be sentenced to jail and/or a fine of LE500,000. (see Law section above).

Alexandria official threatens teachers with gun:

A video that shows Alexandria's deputy governor threatening a group of teachers with a gun reportedly surfaced on social networking websites at the beginning of July. A group of temporary teachers had attempted to meet with Deputy Governor Mahmoud Ateeq to demand that the Education Ministry implement its decision to permanently hire temporary employees, including teachers and workers.

According to the website Masrawy, the teachers decided to begin an open-ended sit-in outside Ateeq's office after he refused to meet with them. A group of teachers had gone to meet with Ateeq at his office Monday evening. The protestors said he threw them out of his office which is when he threatened them with a gun.

Five protestors Suez Canal Authority companies arrested:

Five workers at seven Suez Canal Authority companies were arrested on 3 July by the military police. Officers claimed that the five workers were simply required to meet the Second Army Commander to discuss workers' demands, although the five: Nasser El Beradse, Metawa Mohareb,Nadia Youssef, Mohamed Haggag, and Mahmoud Shaaban, were then detained in a military camp.

Workers at Suez Canal Authority companies had been demonstrating in front of the Guidance Office of Ismailia Governorate since 14 June in protest against the refusal of Ahmed Fadel, the CEO of the Suez Canal Authority, to implement agreements reached with the Manpower Minister on 19 April. The agreements included a 40% increase in basic salary, a 7% hike in bonus payments, and the formation of a committee on restructuring wages and designing a collective agreement for the seven companies.

The CEO further provoked workers by sending them a copy of the decree banning strikes and the Cabinet's statement applying criminal law and particularly anti-terror provisions on demonstrators.

On 18 June army forces fired shots in the air to disperse the 2,500 demonstrating workers who had gathered from SUEZ, Port Said, and Ismailia.

Military police use force to quell workers demonstration: When striking workers tried to leave the Ismailiya Public Free Zone on 26 July, their exit was blocked by military police who fired shots into the air. It was the second day of a strike by at least 5,000 workers in the zone, where 80 factories produce textiles and leather, to demand that the minimum monthly wage be raised to 1,200 Egyptian pounds (about $200) and that they be given long term contracts to qualify for benefits. A workers' spokesperson explained that they had begun by simply chanting and holding banners, but growing frustration had led them to blocking roads and entering offices to talk to people. After the police fired into the air, angry workers began throwing stones and the ensuing clashes left 36 workers and two military police officers injured.

Striking teachers harassed by security forces: The Independent Union of Egyptian Teachers complained of harassment by security forces on 18 September, the second day of a nationwide teachers strike. The strike was called to demand better pay and the removal of Education Minister Ahmed Gamal Eddin Moussa. The strikes reached their peak on the 18th, the first day of the new school year. The leader of the union, Hassan Ahmed Ali, reported that senior ministry officials toured the striking schools and tried to dissuade their teachers from protesting. The ministry also sent a number of security agents to intimidate the teachers, and instructed principals to impose arbitrary penalties on them.

Union leader transferred to undermine protest:

On 2 October the Arab Petroleum Pipelines Company (SUMED), operator of the Suez to Mediterranean pipeline, suddenly announced it was moving the head of the independent workers' union, Atef El-Sayed, from the Ain Sokhna port on the Red Sea to SUMED premises in Alexandria. The announcement came shortly after employees resumed their campaign for the same employment rights as permanent staff. The 230 workers involved in the dispute were employed by a company called Maridive to work for SUMED on temporary contracts – a situation that has lasted, in the case of some workers, for more than 30 years. Many of the subcontracted workers at SUMED were skilled labourers. As Atef El-Sayed explained, "A marine chief, risking his life to do the work in the middle of storms, gets LE1,600 per month after 34 years of work, while the security guard gets LE4,000". There were concerns the disturbance at the port could have far reaching effects in the oil industry, hence the decision to remove the key union figure.

After hearing the decision to move Mr. El-Sayed, 60 morning shift workers started protesting at the port, bringing a rapid response from the maritime unit of the army. Workers claimed forces tried to disperse their protests.

Textile workers face anti-strike measures:

Workers at the Mega Textiles Company found themselves the target of punitive measures in response to trade union action. The newly formed independent union went on strike in May in protest against low pay and poor working conditions, setting out their demands for a pay rise, an eight-hour day and paid overtime. Following the strike management began depriving workers of holidays, lowering their wages and marking them as absent when they turned up for work. Matters escalated on 28 September when management sent in 25 armed Bedouins, some with automatic weapons. Then on 8 October as the workers met with members of their union during a break, they were interrupted, said Mahmoud Abdel Nasser, head of the union, by the management and Bedouins who arrived in tow. The leader of the Bedouins ordered Mr. Nasser to step down from the chair he was standing on but the workers would not let them take him away. The management then reportedly called the workers and union members "dogs", declaring that they would "finish with all of you, whether legally or not." The following day 31 workers, many of whom were union members, were denied entrance to the factory and effectively suspended.

Management then prevented Mahmoud Abdul-Nasir and Mohammed Hassan, a member of the union's executive committee, from entering the factory. The owner of the factory used armed men and thugs to confront workers who were aggravated by the employer's action. The workers complained that armed men were also used to stop workers from supporting the members of the union who had been sacked the week before because of their activities.

Mega Textile workers face more violent repression: Mega Textile workers resumed their protest action on 12 November after management insisted on dismissing 43 workers suspended the previous month after earlier strike action and discussing their poor working conditions with the press. On 16 November management again resorted to using thugs to forcefully empty strike locations. Saad Shaaban, head of Al-Sadat City branch of the workers' independent trade union said that no workers were allowed to enter the company premises and that they feared for their safety.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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