Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Efforts to Liberate Egyptian Trade Unions from the State’s Control & Oppression:

Independent Drafting Committee Convenes to Amend & Formalize their Outline for Trade Union Amendments

A drafting committee of some fifteen worker-activists, trade unionists and labor lawyers convened today (Wednesday, November, 19) at the offices of the Hisham Mubarak Legal Center (an independent labor & human rights NGO) to amend and formalize a 32-point plan that had been formulated during the course of several previous meetings.

This committee is to put forward its recommendations in the form of a draft law - or as proposed draft amendments - to be presented to the People’s Assembly (Parliament) so as to replace the repressive provisions of the extant Trade Union Law #35/1976. The drafting committee is basically attempting to persuade the Egyptian State into implementing those international labor rights (and human rights) agreements which it voluntarily ratified – especially ILO conventions #87 (Concerning Freedom of Association & Protection of the Right to Organize) and #98 (Concerning the Application of the Principles of the Right to Organize and to Bargain Collectively.) The Egyptian State ratified both of these conventions in the 1950s yet has never brought them into effect.

Law 35/1976 (together with Labor Law # 12/ 2003) practically prohibits all strike action, and does not allow for any independent union organization beyond the strict confines of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation/ETUF.

Accordingly, the drafting committee is further formulating its 32-point plan – the provisions of which are being discussed, amended, and legally re-phrased. These provisions are to be presented to the public (specifically to workers, unionists, journalists, MPs, NGOs, etc.) during the next general meeting at the HMLC on December 15.

During this latest meeting the drafting committee debated and discussed the wording of their 32 points - adding provisions and specific stipulations as they went along, point by point. Amongst these (proposed) stipulations was that: Any 20 workers or more (in one workplace, industry, or vicinity) have the right to establish their own independent trade union – merely be notifying the authorities (specifically the Labor Ministry.) Extant Egyptian legislation stipulates that more than 200 full-time workers (in the same workplace) are required to establish a trade union committee (which must affiliate itself to its respective general union within the ETUF.)

The participants debated whether to use the term “trade union/labor union” or the more flexible term “workers’ organization” in the text of their provisions; eventually they agreed upon the term “trade union” - as being the entity which bears the legal personality. In effect they have proposed that only trade unions (or trade union federations) are to be granted legal recognition - while other organizations such as workers’ leagues, committees, communes, etc. are not to be granted legal personality.

Other points of contention included whether to stipulate that –“all workers, without distinction, have the right to join and establish a trade union” OR that both “Egyptian and non-Egyptian workers have the right…” The committee eventually agreed that the former wording was preferable. The committee went on to specify that - agricultural workers, seasonally employed laborers (3ommal el tara7eel,) foreign workers, and even the unemployed should be granted the right to form their own independent unions.

These efforts which are being exerted for the sake of liberating Egypt’s trade unions from state control & intervention are commendable, even historical; yet many (if not most) of these progressive provisions are likely to be shot-down by the reactionary elements which dominate the Egyptian parliament – specifically by the businessmen MPs from the ruling National “Democratic” Party.


Scarr said...

Jano do you know whether CTUWS is at all involved wih this? (As you know CTUWS are currently running a campaign on this.

Jano Charbel said...

Hey Sarah, yes, the Center for Trade Union & Workers' Services is indeed involved in the drafting process. It is one of fifteen NGOs and movements involved.

Others NGOs include HMLC (of course) Center for Socialist Studies, Kefaya, Workers' Solidarity Committee, the Labor Statistics (Center), Egyptian Center for Childrens' Rights, the Land Center, the Coordination Committee for Labor Rights & Union Freedoms, Society for the Promotion of Participation in Civil Society, (Nabil) El Helali Center for Freedoms, Socialist Horizons Center, Arab & African Studies Center, Alternative Development Center, Workers for Change, and the Egyptian Society for Legal Defense & Support.

It is labor lawyer Rahma Refaat, from the CTUWS, who is most involved in this campaign. A couple of weeks ago The CTUWS issued a declaration of principles for the proposed draft amendments.