The Global State of Workers' Rights - Egypt
|Publication Date||31 August 2010|
|Cite as||Freedom House, The Global State of Workers' Rights - Egypt, 31 August 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d4fc801b.html [accessed 20 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This 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.|
Although Article 56 of the constitution guarantees the right to unionize, labor rights in Egypt are heavily restricted. Workers are not required to join a union. However, all unions must join one of the country's 23 official industrial federations. Those federations in turn are required to join the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), which is affiliated with the ruling National Democratic Party and controls elections for trade union leaders. Unions cannot organize in firms with fewer than 50 employees. Union membership is not strong in Egypt. There are approximately 4.5 million unionized workers, with heavy concentrations in state-owned enterprises. Former state enterprises that have been privatized account for the largest share of union members in the private sector. Government intervention in unions' administrative and financial matters is common. However, the 2003 Unified Labor Law does provide for collective bargaining, and negotiations may be started by any of the concerned parties.
Theoretically, the right to strike is also protected by the law, but strikes are not permitted in practice. To gain approval for a strike, trade union leaders are required to give 10 days' notice and secure approval from two-thirds of the ETUF's board of directors. Strikes are prohibited during mediation and while collective-bargaining agreements are still valid, and sectors that are deemed vital to national security or service provision are barred from striking altogether. These include the transportation sector and bakeries, even though they fall outside the International Labour Organization's definition of essential services.
Although authorized strikes are rare, unauthorized strikes have been common in recent years, since most workers have yet to benefit from the growth fueled by economic liberalization. The strikes have been generally peaceful, with the most notable stoppages occurring in the textile industry. The government does not ordinarily interfere in strikes. The exceptions are in cases of violence or where worker demands are not focused on economic issues.
Trade unions, like other socioeconomic institutions, have been influenced by Egypt's seemingly permanent state of emergency. Under emergency law, the government has the right to make arrests without warrants, hold prisoners without charges, and deny prisoners the right to trial by independent judges. By invoking these powers, the government has through the years engaged in massive violations of worker rights and oppressed labor activists with impunity. Emergency law powers have enabled the government to transform the labor federation into an arm of the ruling party. At the same time, Egyptian labor activists have exhibited increasing signs of independence in recent years. Since 2004, over 3,000 collective labor actions have taken place, involving some two million workers. Whereas in the past the government would likely have responded with violence, today it is more likely to engage in negotiations.