Sunday, March 30, 2014

Workers reject 1-year ban on strikes proposed by state

Mada Masr

Workers reject proposed one-year ban on strikes

March 11, 2014

Jano Charbel 

Following the previous cabinet’s resignation on February 24 amid a massive wave of labor strikes, the new Minister of Manpower Nahed al-Ashry moved to issue a controversial initiative on Sunday banning work stoppages for the next 12 months.

In media statements issued Sunday, the minister also claimed that she aspires to reach a deal with employers so as to realize the demands of striking workers, with the aim of containing their anger and limiting unrest.

Ashry has served in the Dispute Resolution Bureau of the Ministry of Manpower for the past 20 years — under the labor ministers appointed by Mubarak, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and the Brotherhood.

On Tuesday, a host of independent labor unions and workers’ organizations responded to this initiative by denouncing it as being unilateral, and offering striking workers nothing in return.

The Ministry had announced on Sunday that it has signed this new initiative with a new, small and virtually unknown, organization dubbed the “Egyptian National Workers' Federation.”

This new proposal for a ban on strikes violates the provisions of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 87 (which the Egyptian state voluntarily ratified in 1957) along with Article 8 of the United Nation’s International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ratified in 1982), and may even contravene Article 15 of the new Egyptian Constitution regarding the right to strike.

According to a statement issued in response from the independent Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS), this initiative does not represent the will of Egyptian workers, as it was only signed by a novel union federation “which has a membership of no more than 200 workers.”

The CTUWS statement also mentioned that if the Ministry of Manpower had sincerely sought to end strikes and labor unrest, they would have met with genuine representatives of Egypt’s workers and unions to hear their demands, and not issued unilateral initiatives with “unknown labor organizations.” The CTUWS criticized the new minister's unwillingness to engage in dialogue or collective bargaining with independent unions.

The CTUWS also mentioned that, had the Ministry of Manpower been concerned with workers’ grievances or their resolution, it would issue a new trade union law and a new labor law to replace the outdated and repressive legislation in existence, along with the provision of an all-inclusive minimum wage.

Representatives of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions and the (independent) Workers’ Coordination Committee (consisting of representatives from ten companies and the Strike Committee of the Doctors Syndicate) also issued a statement on Tuesday criticizing Ibrahim Mehleb and his new cabinet, while calling for the prime minister's trial for neglecting labor demands.

The statement issued by the Workers’ Coordination Committee denounced Mehleb and his Cabinet for failing to provide a minimum wage for Egypt’s workers, not imposing a maximum wage cap on (public sector) administrators, not re-operating hundreds of stalled factories, failing to uphold court verdicts regarding the re-nationalization of four (privatized) companies, and not re-instating thousands of sacked workers.   

In April 2013, the Dokki Criminal Court sentenced then-Prime Minister Hesham Qandil to one year in prison for failing to renationalize companies in accordance with earlier Administrative Court rulings.

Neither Ashry nor the spokesperson for the Ministry of Manpower could be reached for comment.
The Ministry, along with other state authorities have claimed that labor strikes and industrial actions are harming the national economy and are incurring several millions of pounds worth of losses.

Yet tens of thousands of workers, employees and professionals have been on strike since the beginning of this year, and have claimed that their strikes are a result of governmental mismanagement and corruption – which has incurred several billions of pounds worth of losses.

In a televised public address on March 2, Mehleb recognized the legitimacy of workers’ grievances, yet he added: “I call on you to refrain from all protests, sit-ins and strikes. Let us commence the rebuilding of our nation.”

A number of cabinet members have also claimed that the state does not currently have resources at its disposal to meet the demands of striking workers.

In April 2011, the military-appointed cabinet issued Law 34/2011, which criminalizes strikes and protests harming the economy with penalties of fines and/or imprisonment. These fines range from LE30,000 to LE500,000, with prison sentences of one year or more. While this law is technically still in effect, it has widely been ignored by workers and has very rarely been enforced by the authorities.

Under the rule of former-President Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood's Khaled al-Azhary — who was appointed Minister of Manpower — also proposed a one-year-ban on strikes, yet this proposal was never implemented.

In a similar proposal to that of Ashry, television presenter Amr Adeeb suggested a six-month ban on all strikes. On March 3, Adeeb called on all workers to refrain from striking or protesting for half a year, and to make do with the monthly minimum wage of LE1,200.

Adeeb called on all businessmen to donate 95 percent of their profits each month to a fund to replenish the state coffers. He also called on football players and celebrities to do the same, while subsisting on LE1,200 per month.

However, thousands of striking doctors have mocked Adeeb’s proposal on social networking sites, explaining that most physicians employed in public hospitals do not even earn LE1,200 per month. This minimum wage has not yet been extended to the majority of doctors who work for the Health Ministry.

From a total workforce of over 27 million, the minimum wage has been officially provided to a mere 4.9 million public sector employees, although there are more than seven million workers employed by the government and in state-owned enterprises.

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