CAIRO: The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), a workers’ rights organization, has criticized restrictions on trade union freedoms in Egypt in its 2009 annual survey of violations of trade union rights.
“The right to form and join trade unions is heavily curtailed in law. There is a minimum membership requirement of at least 50 employees in the same enterprise, and unions can only operate if they join one of the 23 industrial federations, the report reads.
“All of these have to belong to the only legally recognized trade union center, the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), which has close relations with the NPD, the ruling party. The ETUF has the power to control the nomination and election procedures for trade union office, it continues.
Furthermore, the report says trade unions are banned from engaging in political activities “legal strikes are still virtually impossible.
“The legislation permits a limited form of strike action, but only if two-thirds of the ETUF board agrees. The union must then give a 10-day notice period and indicate the planned duration of the strike. Unions have the right to strike in ‘non-strategic’ installations, but the Prime Minister determines which these are and can also prevent strikes in strategic sectors, the list of which exceeds the ILO definition of essential services by including, for example, transport and bakeries, the report reads.
ETUF-affiliated trade unions provide “a total lack of support, and even hostility towards striking workers, ITUC says, citing a letter sent to the ILO during the International Labour Conference by the textile industry to denounce the ETUF’s growing hostility towards mobilizing activities.
ITUC also mentions the April 6, 2008 mass protest in Mahalla, when a demonstration was violently put down by the police. While the report states that six people were killed, Egyptian an NGO (the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS) ) stated in its Arabic translation of the ITUC report, that it has requested in writing that ITUC change this figure to two, the number of fatalities CTUWS reported at the time of the events.
ITUC point out that three trade union activists – Karim El-Beheiry, Kamal El-Fayoumy and Tareq Amin – arrested in connection with the events and detained for 54 days “received absolutely no support from the official union.
Poor work conditions are not confined to the public sector, the report says, noting that “private employers in Egypt’s special economic zones show very little respect for labor rights.
“Most workers in the 10th 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 labor activists to do anything about it, given the restrictions on collective bargaining and the ban on strikes.
The report does note some positive developments: Egypt’s first independent union in over 50 years, the Independent General Union of the Real Estate Tax Authority, was declared in 2008. Administrative measures taken against CTUWS in 2007 also ended.