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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Egypt

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Egypt, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 12 December 2017]
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

There is only one legally recognised national trade union centre, under which all unions must operate which makes union organising and due union representation exceedingly difficult. A newly created independent union suffered interference and attempts to dissolve it, while discontent grew with the official union. Strikers faced threats and intimidation and one workers' leader was sacked for his part in strike action.

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), under which all unions must operate. 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 2009

Background: A wave of strikes broke out during the year across almost all sectors, from lawyers and judges to refuse collectors, demonstrating mounting discontent at the 28-year rule of President Mubarak in the face of poverty, job losses and rising costs, compounded by the global financial crisis. It also highlighted the frustration of many workers at the failure of the official ETUF (Egyptian Trade Union Federation) to tackle their real needs.

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. In the private sector, where 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.

Special Economic Zones: The private employers in Egypt's Special Economic Zones continue to show very little respect for labour rights. Most workers in the Tenth of Ramadan City zone are forced to sign letters of resignation before beginning employment so that they can be fired at the employers' convenience. Working conditions are very bad, with long hours, low pay and poor safety standards, but it is difficult for labour activists to do anything about it, given the restrictions on collective bargaining and the ban on strikes.

Strikers threatened with dismissal: Twenty-two workers at the Ghazl El-Mahalla spinning factory were threatened with dismissal after organising a sit-in at their factory in January according to labour activist Mohamed El-Attar. The sit-in was in protest at the transfer orders issued to five colleagues, including El-Attar, following an earlier protest in October over mismanagement at the plant. The January sit-in was called off after eight days because the protesters felt the official union did nothing to represent their interests, and that they were negotiating with the union rather than the company. The workers announced their intention to resign from the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) and form an independent trade union.

Continued harassment of CTUWS members: On 14 February, a teacher belonging to the Centre for Trade Union and Workers' Services (CTUWS) was arbitrarily transferred without explanation. Mr. Atef Mahmoud Mohammed Esmael, a teacher in El Hibalat primary school, and one of the CTUWS's most active members in Qenah governorate, was transferred to the Abu Shosha School, three hours distance from his house. The decision was issued by the director of Abu Tesht Educational Administration, and no specific reason was given. The headmaster of the El Hibalat primary school refused to give Mr. Esmael a copy of the decision, and told him that he had to be transferred immediately. The headmaster and his deputy prevented Mr. Esmael from clocking in, while talking on the telephone with an unknown person, describing what was happening in detail. This is not the first time CTUWS and its members have been targeted. In 2007 the association, whose stated aim is to defend workers' rights, improve their working conditions and promote social dialogue and independent trade unionism, was refused registration as an NGO, its premises were closed down, its activities stopped and its national coordinator sentenced to prison.

Attempts to obstruct and dissolve independent trade union: The independent trade union the Real Estate Tax Authority Union (RETA) has suffered interference in its affairs, and harassment of its members, ever since it applied for formal recognition in December 2008. The union was formally constituted in April 2009, becoming the first independent union to be established in Egypt outside the official Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) in over 50 years. After protracted negotiations, a Social Care Fund, providing retirement benefits for its members, was established and then approved by the Minister of Finance in July. However, considerable pressure was exerted by Mr Hussein Megawer, president of the ETUF, on officials, including officials in the Real Estate Tax Authority and Ministry of Finance, to withdraw the recognition of RETA as an independent trade union and to dissolve or seize control of the Social Care Fund.

Shortly after RETA was formally recognised, Mr Megawer attempted to form a new general trade union for employees of the Real Estate Tax Authority, but this was overwhelmingly rejected by the employees. The ETUF also wrote to the government requesting it not to have any dealings with RETA. Later the ETUF filed corruption charges against the RETA leadership, accusing RETA of collecting union dues without authorisation.

Intimidation, harassment and physical assault: In July 2009, two RETA officials were physically assaulted in Gharibya Governate and Sharkiya Governate. Other RETA officers have been referred for investigation before administrative prosecutors and the legal departments of their workplaces. These officers include Mr Tarek Mustafa, the union treasurer and chairman of the union committee in Kalubiya Governorate; Mr Abdel Nasser Sayed Mansour, chairman of the union committee in Beni Suef Governorate; Mr Hussein Kilany, chairman of the union committee in Assiut Governorate; Mr Ezzat Khaled, chairman of the union committee in Qena Governorate; and Mr Khaled Mubarak, treasurer of the union committee in Aswan Governorate. RETA also reported that its members are often called to the State Security offices where they are intimidated and its leaders are arbitrarily transferred from their job sites to remote places.

CTUWS leader harassed: On July 1, security guards at Cairo airport stopped Kamal Abbas, general coordinator of the independent Centre for Trade Union and Workers' Services (CTUWS), as he was leaving for an ITUC meeting in Brussels. Authorities held his passport for more than an hour before allowing him to catch his flight.

Attempts to destroy RETA continue: At the instigation of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), an amendment to the decision creating the Social Care Fund (decision no. 45) was signed on 5 August 2009 which replaced the Real Estate Tax Authority Union (RETA) with the General Trade Union of Banks and Insurances, an ETUF affiliate, as signatory to the Fund. On 10 August 2009, the ETUF filed a report with the Public Prosecutor against the President of RETA, Mr Kamal Abu Eita, and against the decision of the Minister of Finance approving the establishment of RETA's Social Care Fund. The report falsely alleges that Mr Abu Eita's election as President was irregular and that RETA is therefore an illegal entity.

Union leader sacked: On 10 December, the Misr Spinning and Textile company decided to sack another labour leader, Mustafa Fouda, for his part in preparing the attempt at a strike on 7 December at the El Mahlaha city factory. The strike was to have been in support of demands for an increase in the annual bonus, a standard level of allowances, a rapid solution for those whose jobs had been suspended for years and the return of colleagues suspended since the last sit-in.

Intimidation used to prevent strike action: On 7 December, plain clothes state security officials arrived in the early morning to prevent a strike by workers at the Misr Spinning and Textile Company, in El Mahlaha city. About 100 women workers gathered to start the strike, but were dispersed by company security guards. State security cars also spread out across the company workers' "Residential City" to deter them from taking part in any action. Prior to the strike, one of the labour leaders, Faisal Laquichah, was placed under investigation for giving press statements, which may induce workers to strike and disrupt the stability of the company. Workers were warned by state security officials that they could face arrest if they went on strike.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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