Workers refuse draft bill criminalizing protests, say sector protests will continue

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CAIRO: Workers, activists and labor organizations rejected a draft cabinet bill criminalizing "some protests, sit-ins and gatherings" and said that they will continue protesting for their "legitimate demands".

Workers said that similar laws have been issued before but failed to stop labor movements. Their protests, they added, were a continuation of the January 25 Revolution in which social justice was one of its main demands.

"The cabinet did something terrible. This decision won’t stop protests because they are fueled by legitimate demands and it will be condemned by the International Labor Organization (ILO) as it contradicts international agreements signed by Egypt," said Kamal Abbas, general coordinator of Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services (CTUWS).

According to the draft law, those who organize protests or sit-ins that lead to obstructing work at one of the state’s institutions, public authorities or private and public workplaces will be fined between LE 50,000 and LE 100,000 or imprisoned.

Those who organize violent protests that involve the sabotage of production tools, harm national unity or social peace, cause public disorder, damage or occupy public or private property will be imprisoned for no less than one year and fined between LE 100,000 and LE 500,000.

The law would only be affective under a state of emergency.

Cabinet Spokesman Magdy Rady told Daily News Egypt on Wednesday that any peaceful protest that doesn’t obstruct businesses or the flow of traffic is allowed and protected by the law.

"Protests will continue and we will challenge this decision. We are not afraid of being imprisoned or fined," said labor activist Nagy Rashad.

"Our slogan will be unity for Egyptian workers and we will show solidarity and support for every workers’ protest or sit-in," he added.

The cabinet said that all sector protests and sit-ins have to end immediately, especially that the Cabinet has responded to most of the people’s demands which were relayed through legal channels.

The cabinet added that it’s in the process of drafting a plan to reform employment and wage policies which are the basic demand of sector protesters.

"People are now protesting after news emerged of officials’ huge fortunes and the drastic differences between salaries of managers and workers in the same institution," Kamal Khalil, spokesperson for the Democratic Labor Party, which is still under formation.

"The revolution isn’t only about freedom; these protests are the continuation of the social part of the revolution," he added.

A statement by the CTUWS condemned the bill and called upon the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to reject it and initiate social dialogue with workers, business owners and civil and political organizations to discuss "current challenges".

"Egyptian governments after the revolution failed to understand the labor movement and instead took an arrogant stance from it and said it hindered democratic transformation in the country," read the statement.

The statement said that the proposed bill is a return to the practices of the ousted regime which criminalized strikes through article 194 of the penal code until 2003 when Egypt signed the International Labor Accord, but then it put constraints that made it impossible to practice this right.

The bill is yet to be approved by the Supreme Council of the Armed forces.

The bill was also condemned by the April 6 Youth Movement that said, "It is unacceptable stifle people’s freedom of expression no matter what the reasons are."

"Sector protests can be easily dealt with through opening a dialogue with workers not banning protests," added the statement.

"Counter revolution protests organized by the remnants of the ousted regime can be easily stopped through many other ways," it added.

Abbas said that they presented a suggestion to the Ministry of Finance to establish a committee comprising workers, business owners, government officials and experts to run negotiations.

"We believe that this is the best mechanism to respond to workers’ demands, as it will discuss problems and set procedures with a specific time schedule to solve them; however, it was ignored," he said.

Workers said that after the 1952 revolution, two labor activists were executed by the revolutionary council when they were accused of being part of the counter revolution.

Late president Anwar Sadat issued a similar law in 1977, banning protests amid social unrest on Jan. 17 and 18 of that year demanding social justice.

Khalil said that the party is preparing a memorandum that includes all workers’ demands and will present it to Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.

Workers previously condemned statements by Sharaf criticizing sector protests for hindering economy.

"Workers’ demands include the appointment of workers on temporary contracts and the return of workers expelled due to their syndicate activities. These require simple decisions," Rashad said.


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