Sunday, January 31, 2016

1,117 strikes & labor protests across Egypt in 2015: Report

Monday, January 11, 2016

Jano Charbel

The NGO Democracy Meter issued its annual report on Egyptian industrial actions on Saturday, citing 1,117 labor protests throughout 2015. In other words, Egypt witnessed an average of around three labor protests during each day of the year, and approximately 93 such protests per month.

As high as this rate of labor unrest is, it represents a marked decrease in comparison to the numbers of industrial actions witnessed in the previous year. The Mahrousa Center for Socioeconomic Development (another NGO) documented 1,651 labor protests in the first half of 2014 alone.

Democracy Meter said the rate of strikes may have diminished in 2015 as a result of a state-sponsored campaign to ban these work stoppages for a year. The NGO also noted that the Ministry of Endowments was brought into play last year, sponsoring religious sermons to denounce the right to strike. Nonetheless, employees of the ministry also conducted several protests and strikes in 2015.

As in previous years, Democracy Meter said that last year's labor protests were primarily linked to wage disputes, contractual demands, physical assaults against employees, punitive dismissals and relocations, along with the closure of workplaces.

Nearly 30 different forms of labor protests were documented last year, including marches, sit-ins, occupations, blocking of streets and the filing of petitions. A total of 392 labor protest rallies were organized in 2015, according to the report.

As for strikes, these included partial strikes, slow-down strikes and comprehensive work stoppages, along with hunger strikes. Incidents of “boss-nappings" and the detention of workplace administrators were also reported, along with the phenomenon of worker suicides. A total of 207 work stoppages were cited in the study.

At least one worker committed suicide last year due to labor grievances, according to Democracy Meter, while another 11 attempted suicide.

In an infograph, the democracy indicator claimed that the 1,117 labor protests in 2015 took place in over 50 different sectors — from factory workers to civil servants, teachers, tourism industry employees, doctors and medical workers, along with many more.

The industrial production and factory sectors witnessed the greatest amount of labor unrest, followed by the governmental employees and civil servants sectors, and then teachers. Such industrial actions were reported in more than 439 different workplaces nationwide.

According to Democracy Meter, 26 out of 27 governorates witnessed labor protests last year, with Matrouh the only governorate in which no such protests were recorded.

Labour protests across Egypt in 2015
 [Labor protests across Egypt in 2015] 

On a national level, Cairo and its environs witnessed the greatest number of labor protests in 2015, with 422 industrial actions. The Nile Delta witnessed 207, and the Suez Canal governorates 187.

2015 saw perhaps the largest street protest since 2013, when thousands of civil servants protested in August against the new civil service law introduced by presidential decree. Several other protests were also staged against this controversial new law.

Moreover, a large wave of strikes took place in October 2015 over the non-payment of a 10 percent bonus for employees in the public works sector, which was also decreed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

In terms of labor trends, the report claims that the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) and other state entities launched a concerted attack against independent trade unions and sought to tighten their stranglehold upon them.

Many workers perceive the ETUF as continuing to serve as “a representative of the executive branch of government, rather than a representative of workers," Democracy Meter said.

The ETUF did not authorize a single strike in 2015. Since its establishment in 1957, the ETUF has only ever authorized two strikes.

Democracy Meter reported that dozens of workers were arrested last year in light of their labor protests — with courts sentencing 10 of these workers to prison terms. The NGO added that another 80 workers were fired from their jobs due to such industrial actions. Dozens of others were referred to disciplinary hearings or prosecution for engaging in strikes.

Many laborers perceive that the state’s crackdown as discriminatory, Democracy Meter said, pointing out that the state did not charge any of these low-ranking policemen with violating the protest law imposed in 2013.

*Photo of Mahalla strike courtesy of Libcom; Map & graph courtesy of Democracy Meter

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