“The government”…the federation’s bodyguard

Tuesday, April 19, 2016 - 17:03

Successively during the past three days, instigation started to finish off independent trade unions. On Sunday, 17 April, 2016 the newspaper Al-Ahram Massai published a story about the Ministries of Social Solidarity and International Cooperation examining sources of funding independent trade unions upon instructions from a sovereign authority after monitoring contacts between the independent trade unions and a number of donors and international organizations to fuel protests among workers and incite them to rebel against the General Federation of Egyptian Trade Union. Those entities would urge the independent unions to take advantage of the Federation’s lack of ability to achieve the demands of workers. According to documents obtained by Al-Ahram Massai, a joint committee was formed from the ministries of social solidarity and international cooperation to identify breaches and violations committed by independent trade unions and those in charge of the violations in order to take necessary administrative and legal procedures. (The committee would also) determine the topics that unions and independent unions intend put forward for discussion at the International LaborConference in Geneva.

It is noticeable that one of the charges against the independent trade unions is inciting workers to rebel against the General Federation of Unions of Egypt taking advantage of the union’sinability to achieve the demands of the workers. This is recognition that this union lacks the ability to achieve the demands of workers. This federation is protected by the government which gives it generously from taxpayers' money and turns a blind eye to the financial violations which filled Central Auditing Agency reports. The members of its board are given grants in the form of parliamentary seats, the post of Minister of Manpower, seats on the boards of holding companies, representation in various committees, an emergency fund and others.

Nevertheless the government is sure it lacks the ability to achieve the demands of the workers which is something the workers discovered decades ago. Therefore it was natural that workers would seek an alternative and free willingly establish their own independent unions.

The following Monday, 18 April, the site Parlimany published news about MP Abdul Rahim Ali presented an urgent statement to the Speaker of Parliament Dr. Ali Abdel Aaland requested it to be forwarded to the Prime Ministercalling on the government to notice (that there is information indicating communications between trade unions and international organizations and donors were monitored aiming to fuel protests within labor circles and incite workers to rebel against the General Federation of unions of Egypt. It is worth noting the identical wording of the statement "inciting workers against the General Federation of Unions of Egypt!".

It is worth mentioning that the MP does not reflect his personal position as there are many MPs who share his position. Those MPs will be responsible for discussing the new law of union organizations which the government intends to submit to parliament.

And I wonder here, will the MPs abide by Article 76 of the Constitution which gives workers the right to create unions freely and ensures the independence of trade unions? Or will they be committed to the defense of the official federation which was never spotted to note the demands of workers, be biased towards them let alone pursuit those demands; the federation which, according to their confession, lacks the ability to achieve the demands of workers.

It is clear from those pieces of news that the attack on independent unions and defaming their leaders will escalate in the coming days before the General Conference of the International Labor Organization next June.

The goal is to terrorize labor leaders and keep them from making any complaint to the Organization about government abuses in the field of union freedoms especially as we have not yet read a formal response to the letter of the ILO Director, Guy Ryder, to the President of the Republic in which the head of the Labour Organization requests Egypt to abide by union freedoms to which it signed in particular convention (87) which states the right of workers to freely establish trade unions.

The attack on independent unions is part of the attack on civil society organizations and smear campaigns for officials of those organizations; all under one title "receiving funding from international organizations". This also occurs in a climate which opposes public freedoms, desperate attempts by the regime to close the area of unions and NGOs and criminalize political practices. This makes the issue of union freedoms, not an issue for labor leaders alone, but one that must be a top priority for all democratic forces that defend freedoms foremost among which is the right of Egyptian workers to freely establish unions and ensure the independence of union organizations.


Kamal Abbas
General Coordinator of the Center for Union and Workers' Services

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