CAIRO: The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) called for revision of minimum wage scales in Egypt in a report launched on Thursday.
The report titled “The Political Repercussions of Wages on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights outlines domestic and international laws governing wages and compares wage levels in Egypt with neighboring Arab countries.
While the Egyptian constitution guarantees a decent wage, the reality is very different, EOHR says.
“Egyptian legislation contains numerous provisions that detract from workers’ wages and which undermine the protection which wages are meant to enjoy such as the right to strike and the prohibition on arbitrary dismissal.
The NGO makes reference to a United Nations report issued in January 2009 according to which the minimum wage in Egypt is far less than the poverty threshold set internationally at $2 per day.
In addition the UN report says the minimum wage in the government and public sector is LE 142 per month – less than the LE 150 per month poverty line in Egypt.
EOHR also mentions World Bank figures which put annual minimum wage figures in Egypt at $425.
This compares to $875 in Algeria, $1,675 in Morocco and $1,850 in Tunisia.
EOHR adds that according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics figures, the working week in Egypt is between 54 and 58 hours which it says further detracts from the value of wages.
The report also points to the discrepancies between wages in the private and public sector. The average monthly wage for men and women working in the government sector is LE 684 compared to LE 576 for men and LE 444 for women working in the private sector.
EOHR makes a link between poverty and the ability to access basic, essential services.
“Individuals who earn a decent wage are able to access their full social and economic rights, while those on poor wages cannot, the report says.
“In light of falling average wages and the increase in costs of services (and reduced public spending on the service sector) there exist sharp differences in individuals’ ability to enjoy social and economic rights. While those with high wages have access to appropriate health care, housing and education, individuals with low wages are outside of this framework.
The NGO makes several recommendations in its report.
It says that because of the change in consumer patterns the minimum wage level must be reviewed and continue to be reviewed periodically in light of inflation.
“The National Wages Council must announce a minimum wage level – particularly given that it has not done so since its creation in 2003, the report says.
“The council should take into consideration economic and social conditions which have declined in recent years and the costs of certain commodities which have increased by over 200 percent.
“The council will ensure a life of dignity for the poor by linking wages to prices and periodically increasing wages in line with inflation in Egypt, the report continues.
In addition to calling for freedom to form trade unions, EOHR demands that collective bargaining mechanism be made more effective.
It further recommends that industrial committees be made up of government, worker and labor organization representatives to agree on an appropriate minimum wage.
“These committees will assist in putting forward proposals concerning the minimum and maximum wage within each industry, the report says.
In addition, health insurance must be expanded to include all citizens, the housing crisis must be solved and essential services and products offered to the low-income sector subsidized, EOHR says.
The NGO warns that raising the minimum wage is not enough – further economic measures must be taken in tandem.
“Simply raising the minimum wage is not enough. It must be linked to reform of market management mechanisms, since an increase in the minimum wage could trigger a wave of inflation.
“What is needed is a monitoring of prices, reduction of imports, reform of agricultural policy and increased productivity.