CAIRO: Activists and lawyers discussed the trade union movement in Egypt and the campaign for an independent trade union body Friday, during the sixth annual conference of the Coordinating Committee on Trade Union and Labor Rights and Freedoms.
Khaled Ali, a lawyer with the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre (HMLC), discussed a campaign launched in September 2008 by HMLC under the banner “Together for Unleashing Trade Union Liberty .
As part of the campaign, which brings together 27 political parties, NGOs and labor groups, a draft law was issued last year in which campaign members are lobbying the government to replace existing legislation on trade union matters.
Critics say that Law 35 of 1976 on trade unions does not conform with labor rights enshrined in international treaties ratified by Egypt. They further contend that the state-controlled Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions (EFTU) does not represent workers interests and concentrates powers in its upper echelons.
Ali told the conference that interference by Minister of Manpower Aisha Abdel Hady in “all of EFTU s affairs constitutes a breach of Egypt s international obligations.
The HMLC campaign is calling for the enactment of the right to form autonomous, self-governing trade unions, the right to strike and the right to collective bargaining, amongst other reforms.
In April 2009 the Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Employees (URETAE) was recognized by the manpower ministry. Ali called this a “historic day in the labor movement .
URETAE head Kamal Abu Eita also spoke during the conference. He said that “almost all of Egypt s 50,000 tax collectors had signed up for membership of what is Egypt s first independent union in over 50 years.
Abu Eita emphasized that URETAE was created “without anyone s permission .
“We established our union without anyone s permission. As soon as we declared it, it came into existence – as is our right under the Egyptian constitution and international law, Abu Eita said.
Abu Eita was critical of the EFTU structure, which he said has been under government control since its creation in 1956.