CAIRO: A lawyer has condemned the case filed against the president of Egypt’s newly-established and only independent trade union as “political.
The case against Kamal Abu Eita was filed by Farouq Shehata, president of the General Union of Bank, Insurance and Finance Employees.
In it Shehata alleges that Abu Eita, president of the Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Employees (URETAE) is “claiming to have established an independent union of real estate tax collectors while the legitimate trade union defending real estate tax collectors’ interests is the General Union of Bank, Insurance and Finance Employees.
Shehata claims that Abu Eita has committed a criminal offence under article 73 of Law 35 on Trade Unions, which provides that members of a trade union executive board who “give false information about the Egyptian Federation of Trade Union (EFTU) or “addresses the public in the name of a trade union without the right to do so are liable to imprisonment for up to six months or a fine of LE 100.
Under article 73, property and funds may be confiscated and the offices of the group “calling itself a trade union without the right to do so may be closed.
Mohamedein says that “this is the first case of its kind to appear before the public prosecution office and “their questions were more about gathering information about the law than they were to do with interrogation.
In December 2007, real estate tax collectors staged an 11-day sit-in outside the Ministry of Finance which was opposed by the General Union. Tax collectors responded to the General Union’s intransigence by forming the higher committee for the property tax collectors’ strike, led by Kamal Abu Eita, which mobilized thousands of tax collectors.
Rather than disbanding when the government conceded to their demands (awarding them pay rises of over 325 percent) tax collectors began collecting signatures in support of the formation of a free union. Abu Eita is now URETAE’s president, and over 40,000 of the real estate tax authority’s 50,000 employees have joined the union.
“While Abu Eita’s legal position is good, this is a political and not a legal case. The charges have been brought in order to occupy it with side issues which prevent it concentrating on the real battle which is with EFTU.
“The district attorney understood the content of article 73 but did not understand the bigger picture surrounding the case brought against Abu Eita and the struggle for URETAE’s establishment, Mohamedein continued.
Abu Eita was questioned for approximately two hours. He was briefly officially detained for 45 minutes towards the end of the questioning by the head of the public prosecution office until the district public prosecutor ordered that he be released pending further investigation.
According to Mohamedein, Shehata will be summoned by the public prosecution office in the coming few days.
Mohamedein says that the charges brought against Abu Eita are invalid.
“The article under which the charges were brought have nothing to do with Abu Eita. Article 73 concerns members of EFTU executive boards. Abu Eita is not a member of any EFTU executive board, Mohamedein explained.
“URETAE was established on the basis of international treaties ratified by Egypt: it isn’t a part of EFTU and cannot therefore be the subject of a legal provision concerning EFTU members.
“If, however, the public prosecution office did decide to bring charges against Abu Eita, we will argue in our defense that article 73 and other provisions of Law 35 are unconstitutional.
Mohamedein suggests that the legislator exceeded his powers in Law 35, appropriating the rights of workers.
“The law is not supposed to deal with trade unions’ internal matters, their financial and administrative affairs and voting system – and this is what Law 35 does. It deals with matters which are the preserve of trade union members themselves.
Egyptian Labor activists as well as the International Labor Organization (ILO) have long been critical of Law 35 and the state-controlled EFTU.
“Law 35 is in violation of both international treaties ratified by Egypt, and the Egyptian Constitution, Mohamedein says.
“The Egyptian Constitution lays down the right for the formation of trade unions and federations on a free and democratic basis – which Law 35 does not uphold – while the International Labor Organization is critical of several aspects of Egypt’s trade union system such as that EFTU membership is obligatory, despite the fact that Law 35 provides for the right of trade union members to cancel their membership.
URETAE members filed mass resignations with the Union of Bank, Insurance and Financial Affairs Employees when URETAE was formed but, despite this, monthly membership fees continued to be deducted from the salaries – “evidence that EFTU membership is obligatory, in violation of Law 35 , Mohamedein says.
Abu Eita describes URETAE as Egypt s only syndicate.
I m ready to be imprisoned all my life for establishing an independent syndicate in Egypt, and for liberating our people s will.
We are a genuine syndicate. The decision to establish the syndicate was taken by our general assembly. It has tripled the wages of employees and helped people with disabilities, Abu Eita told Daily News Egypt.
We are the only syndicate Egypt has, all the others are undemocratic and non-independent, and are managed by security bodies or businessmen. My evidence for this is the number of strikes that are occurring these days; if there were syndicates looking after people s needs there wouldn t have been this many strikes. -Additional reporting by Diana Ghali