The department of civil status affiliated with the Ministry of Interior issued periodical No. 6 for the year 2016 to stop endorsement of seals of independent unions. The periodical was signed by Major General Ihab Abdel-Rahman, assistant minister for department of civil status, and directed to section managers of the civil status department police[managers of issuing center, center of automated information and documents, directors of centers and departments at the DCS head quarters, managers of card issuing unit to observe the following:
- Stop endorsement of seals of independent unions of all denominations. Professions are to be endorsed by submitting the National ID card along with complete cessation of all previous periodicals issued in this regard.
- Abide by mechanisms to prove professions subject to measurement of the level of skill by virtue of licenses of practicing the craft according to certificates issued by the Ministry of Manpower.
- Occupations for which no ministerial decisions were issued and which are not subject to measurement of skill level, a letter is to be issued by the labor bureau in the area where the worker lives and endorsement of social insurance is needed.
- Proof of professional worker by virtue of endorsement of social security or specialized public unions which are (General Union for Building and Wood Workers, General Union for Engineering, Metal and Electrical Industries).
This periodical reveals the increasing direction of government agencies to impede the workers from forming their own independent unions and clamp down on areas of union freedoms which Egyptian workers aspire to enjoy and were able to reap some of its fruits in the wake of the January 2011 revolution. They had already paid the price in advance: Some were dismissed from their jobs, some were sentenced to prison, families suffered the loss of their means of living and children were exposed to the risk of destitution and homelessness.
The most dangerous thing in this periodical is not the procedures, as important as they are, but the goal contained within the directives which is "shutting the door to trade unions and illegal entities that carry similar names similar". Therefore, discussing this periodical does not stop at the adoption of seals of independent unions as means to establish professionalism; we care to highlight the following facts and points:
According to the periodical the purpose of shutting the door for "independent" unions –strangely enough – is said to be within the framework stated by the Constitution and the law which ban the establishment of free and independent trade unions. Which constitution?! The 2014 Constitution which stipulates in article seventy-six that "the creation of syndicates and unions on a democratic basis is a right guaranteed by law and shall have legal personality, operate freely, and contribute to raising the level of competence among its members and defend their rights and protect their interests. The State shall guarantee the independence of trade unions and federations whose board of directors cannot be dissolved without a court order. None may be created in statutory bodies. Article 93 of the constitution thereof stresses the obligation of the State “to abide by the agreements and covenants and international human rights conventions ratified by Egypt, and acquire the force of law after publication in accordance with the established procedure."
Accordingly, the controls stated by the Constitution are:
• Establishment of syndicates and unions on a democratic basis is a right guaranteed by law.
• These syndicates and unions have legal personality
• Those syndicates and unions may operate freely (i.e. Administrative and government agencies will not interfere in their work).
• State is committed to ensuring independence of unions and federations.
• Boards of unions and federations may not be dissolved except with a court order
• It is not permissible to create unions for the army or the police.
• Commitment to abide by Labor Conventions Nos. 87 and 98 endorsed by the Egyptian government and the International Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; both of which have the force of law.
The Constitution dictates that the State should ensure the independence of unions, and the periodical of the Ministry of Interior depicts independent unions as illegal because they are free and independent!!
The Constitution, which we voted for and we accepted as a social contract for us is not mere ink on paper, not a word to be added to government documents and periodicals as a dust thrown in our eyes. The constitution - which ministers, officials and parliamentarians take oath vowing to respect it, which acting against is an offense - is immediately enforceable as soon as it was approved by voting.
Law No.35for the year 1976Actisunconstitutional because it does not guarantee the independence of unions and imposes a certain union on the workers which is considered by the state – and the Interior Ministry in particular -one of its arms. Since it is unconstitutional and since Egypt is committed to annul it in front of the ILO, since 2008andup to the moment, a new law for unions should be issued and all unions are ensured to be formed according to it.
A law that acknowledges union freedoms ensures the independence of unions and ensures unions can exercise their activities freely.
If you hold on the law which has been outdated for ages, look into the reasoning of the constitutional court in its verdict to abolish Article 38 of this law: “The freedom of unions - that need to be guaranteed, and not detracted from- " was based on an initial rule in union organization that some countries grant a constitutional value in itself to ensure the right of every worker to join the union he is feels reassured with and to select one or more among the unions to be a member of or to refrain from them all. He is not forced through its doors and he has the right to end his membership in any one of them."[case No. 6 for the year 15]
The periodical is based on the book of the Ministry of Manpower –seemingly directed to the Ministry of the Interior –which mentions that the formation of independent unions is based on the labor agreement No. 87 agreement – which is supposed to have the force of law in accordance to the constitution - and that the administrative bodies has no interference with its composition or "their own professions" making it a reason to consider the seals of the unions legal and to justify considering those unions illegal entities. The Interior Ministry seems not to notice that the Ministry of Manpower usually keeps itself away from any suspicion of interference in the affairs of unions because administrative authorities should not intervene as the state is supposed to commit to ensuring the independence of the unions. Independence is closely related to unions and without independence they do not become unions. Without independence unions become state annexes such as the Federation of Egyptian workers unions which the government and officials in Egypt were used to its presence throughout decades until it became the only synonym they have to the word workers unions.
What the book of the Ministry of Manpower did not include is that Egyptian workers were able to - in the wake of the 25 January revolution – to snatch some of the trade union freedoms for which a Ministerial Declaration was issued on the twelfth of March 2011 according to which the ministry accepted unions to place documents. Nevertheless exercising union freedoms continued to face great difficulties on the ground and struggle with misconceptions. Unions deposit their documents but operate with extreme difficulty; their hands are tied and sometimes they are allowed limited movement. They face defaming campaigns and relentless attempts to block them. Finally, periodical that strip them from their legitimacy are issued.
One of the more grave aspects was that the periodical was based on the periodical of the General Directorate of the Technical Office of the Minister number 3721 issued 17.02.2016 containing the conclusion by the national security sector not to endorse the seals of independent unions to prevent them from issuing official documents. According to the national security sector it is difficult to "activate the mechanisms that contribute to the development of service sectors" or to achieve "discipline in proving professions". The matter is related to achieving the goal of shutting the door to unions and illegal entities that carry similar names." The more dangerous aspect here is returning to dealing with unions from the perspective of security. A perspective we all have experienced for a long time. The perspective sees in every initiative or independent organization a potential threat that should be disposed of or subjected to the government or the security. A security perspective that does not recognize the civil society, its organizations or vocabulary; nothing away from the government and nothing is not subject to control and domination.
Unions are not a danger to society but are one of the most important leverages of stability. It cannot be a lever for stability except if they are independent and if they are able to carry out their original task of defending the rights of its member workers, expressing their interests and negotiating on their behalf.In order for social dialogue and community bargaining to be possible, a balance between the interests of different social parties may be achieved, so that society does not reach congestion to the extent of disease and upset its balance to the level of danger.
Unions which lose their independence and become annexes to government and the security entities, unions whose workers themselves consider one of the government institutions cannot perform the role of unions as they do not enjoy the confidence of the workers, cannot defend their interests, or negotiate on their behalf. The result is that which we all know all and witnessed: Loss of confidence and obstruction of channels for dialogue and negotiation.
Three years ago, the Center for Union and Workers' Services requested the Ministry of Manpower to organize a community dialogue to develop systematic and disciplined mechanisms for operations to prove professions and issue practice licenses that ensure its efficiency, transparency and actualizes the interests of workers themselves in the first place; especially that the operations of licensing and proof of professions are closely linked to issues of irregular labor, its registration, protect and preservation of rights.
What cannot be accepted is a return to restricting proof of worker’s profession or ordinary worker to two unions affiliated with the Committees of the General Federation of Egyptian Trade workers [General Union for the construction, timber, and General Trade Union of Workers of Engineering and Electrical industries]without other union independent from this federation.
Such restriction exactly means forcing workers to join certain unions and not others as the worker is forced to perform nominal enrollment or by place documents at these unions and pay the membership fees contributions so that he could prove his profession. This coercion is the total opposite to the text of Article 76 of the Constitution and represents a clear violation. This coercion is exactly what is prohibited by the international Labor Convention No. 87.
This is, precisely, the bitter history which Egyptian workers will not agree to return to: Unions that boast membership on paper of hundreds of thousands of workers who are actually deprived from the right to organize themselves in a real "free and independent" and effective union. Registration on paper and proofof professions on paper and false membership and workers denied the actual training and rehabilitation opportunities for real work opportunities, and legal protection for their rights of insurance, social and health security insurance. Workers deprived of unions.
But history does not repeat itself.
Center for Trade Union and Workers' Services
Tuesday 1 March 2016