CAIRO: At a finance ministry press conference Sunday, Kamal Abu Eita, one of the founders of the newly-created Independent Labor Union — not on the scheduled panel of speakers — was given the floor.
Things are not the same as before, he said, “this is another type of press conferences.”
The independent union was established by the independent syndicates of real estate tax workers, health technicians, teachers and a pensioners’ union. Abu Eita is the head of the independent syndicate for real estate tax workers.
Abu Eita thanked Samir Radwan, finance minister, and Ahmed El-Borai, minister of manpower, for their support of the independent workers’ unions and the newly announced decision to allow for the creation of unions.
“Had there been no revolution, these people would not have been here. These people represent the revolution; we are with you to build our country,” he said, calling on workers to give the new ministers time to achieve results, and asking people to work but maintain protests simultaneously to voice their demands.
“One hand works and one hand demands,” he said.
Juan Somavia, general director of the ILO, met with the ministers prior to the conference. He said that the government’s decision to allow and facilitate the formation of workers’ unions opens the door to a new era for workers’ rights.
“Previous systems excluded workers from participation but we now have political clarity and we believe this is an important part of the process of democratization,” he added.
Radwan highlighted employment and wages as the most important issues alongside political reforms in the democratic transition.
Economic stimulus to resolve these issues will come in the form of the previously proposed national plan for employment and wages attempting to create 700,000 jobs per year, stressing that the creation of workers’ unions and syndicates are a vital part of the plan.
El-Borai announced sweeping reforms including restructuring and empowering the National Council for Wages and developing mechanisms to link wages with productivity and rising prices.
He stressed that capacity building for unions is important and was part of the negotiations with the ILO.
He also announced a decision to prohibit businesses from hiring foreigners unless the training required to hire Egyptians in the same position would exceed six months.
Commenting on the outcome of the meeting with Somavia, Radwan said the priority is to build the capacity of the Ministry of Manpower and of unions to better deal with maintaining and protecting workers’ rights.
According to Radwan, other priorities include revising the wage system, revising insurance laws, namely unemployment insurance, as well as vocational training and education reform.
He asked that workers refrain from protests and resume work immediately while the government works to implement these reforms, understanding that they must take effect as soon as possible.
“Employment will be created when people start getting back to work. I assure you that we are working with the ILO on drawing from the international experience in order to reach the fastest decisions possible,” he said.
“We don’t have time to just rely on new studies and extensive research but we can draw from the sufficient research that is currently available and successful international experiences,” he added.
On his part, Somavia said that the ILO is prepared to offer any assistance including capacity building and technical expertise to ministries and new unions.
Quelling fears that private sector employers might not want to have independent unions because they don’t want to deal with the costs of demands, he said, “It is really the other way around. It is better for employers to have stability and have empowered unions that place their demands on the table, to plan strategically with regards to wages.”
The ILO will monitor the enforcement of decisions by new unions and syndicates as well as the general labor situation in Egypt.
“ILO convention 87 which was signed by Egypt is reevaluated every year by a supervisory council and every year we recognize 25 countries with the worst labor situations. Egypt has been on the list for the past few years,” he said.
“However, on the basis of the decisions announced by the minister and our continuous follow up of the continuation of the decisions, I don’t think Egypt will be on this list next year,” he added.
Samir Radwan. (AP photo)