Despite the establishment of a ministerial commission for Claims and Follow-up by the Ministry of Labor Force
Unpromising indicators raising lots of doubts:
Receipt of a shocking Letter from Gharbia manpower Directorate
In the cntext of the project about work relations and the institutions concerned with this issue, to be implemented between the Egyptian government, other concerned parties, and ILO the second tripartite meeting was held on November 5 2020 with the participation of all partners.
The project was launched on the eighth of March 2020 with the objective to tackle three main issues:
- Reinforce the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining to be effectively implemented under favorable legal environment and practices;
- Create an encouraging atmosphere to develop suitable and decent work relations;
- Enable institutions working in the fields of spinning, weaving and ready-made garments to better profit from the commercial opportunities resulting from the improvement of work relations and the alignment with international work standards.
During the meeting mentioned above, the results of primary deliberations between ILO and the social counterparts in Egypt were presented as well as the progress achieved so far; trade unions' representatives expressed their worries about the steps that were expected to be achieved regarding the promotion of the freedom of association, especially with regards to trade unions whose status remains until now pending for long months (reaching in some cases over two years) despite their provision of all necessary documents to attain a legal status.
The Egyptian government represented by the Ministry of Labor Force expressed readiness to solve all pending issues, and the meeting ended by an agreement about practical steps to be undertaken by the ministerial commission that was formed to be responsible of examining the status and claims of trade unions; following this meeting, very few cases were actually settled.
In fact, the rhythm of work was slow down during the past few weeks appearing as if we were standing on the same place as before, or even witnessing a backlash; serious irrational obstacles and problems were raised with the abstention of manpower directorates from implementing the agreements reached with the ministerial commission, and negative messages spread requiring thorough attention:
- Firstly: On December 13 2020, the trade union president of workers in Gharbia directorate real estate taxes – whose status is pending since April 2018 – presented a file requesting the license for establishment; documents were informally received without obtaining an official acknowledgment of receipt, and the man was informed there was need of some time to review the case;
Members of the trade union committee were stunned – as well as everybody else– to be addressed a letter number 5176 dated December 31st 2020 issued from the said directorate stating that it was forbidden to establish another union committee in the same enterprise located in Gharbia province!! As they claimed there is already one holding the same name!;
The refusal of the directorate of real estate taxes was based on Article 1 in Law 213/2017 about the right to establish trade unions related to trade union committees of enterprises and stating that there should be only one trade union according to the definition adopted by the Law about trade union committees in companies and enterprises;
Moreover, the directorate justified its decision by Article 23 of the same Law stating that the membership of workers would be automatically transferred to the already existing committee where they are working, and will enjoy the privileges and services adopted by this committee beginning from the date of transfer to their new professional affiliation.
In case an institution where there is a union committee becomes merged with another enterprise, workers' membership is transferred to the trade union existing in the new entity and will enjoy all privileges and services granted by the trade union since their date of transfer. We do not understand how the directorate considered that this text was a proof of incompatibility between two parallel trade unions existing in the same institution. Moreover, the directorate's message indicated that in the case of merging, the membership of a worker is automatically transferred to the trade union of the mother organization.
Despite the multitude of proofs provided by the directorate, it is important to note the following:
- Already, during the discussion of the draft law on trade unions, we had expressed our concern about Article 11 stipulating that workers in an institution have the right to establish the trade union committee provided the number of members is no lesser than fifty; actually, independent trade unions were worried that reference to the added in the text would implicitly deny the right to create more than one trade union in the same institution;
- Since such a constraint is in flagrant contravention with Convention 87 on the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, ILO direct contacts delegation expressed its reservation to the governmental parties met – including the Minister of Parliamentarian Affairs – who all reassured that prohibition of multiplicity was not meant, and the ILO delegation referred to this point in its mission report as well as this was confirmed by the government according to the minutes of the Egyptian Parliament's discussion of the draft Law.
- The Law Executive Regulation issued by decree 35/2018 mentions in Article 3 that workers have the right with no discrimination to establish, join, or withdraw from trade unions according to the measures included in this document and the By-Laws of each trade union. It added that withdrawal from a trade union membership would not affect the rights due to a worker from joining this organization.
According to this text, there should be no obstacles impeding the right of workers to create and chose their organization similar to those problems raised by Gharbia directorate based on its interpretation of the Law.
Moreover, Article 11 of the Executive Regulation mentions that workers' trade unions should adopt a name which would not lead to confusion with that of another trade union existing within the same working context; in case of litigation, priority will be given to the first one depositing its file or regulating its legal status.
This provision clearly indicates that more than a workers' union could be established within the same context, either in terms of enterprise or sector provided the choice of name does lead to lack of clarity between the two or maybe more names.
- The shocking letter of the manpower directorate reconfirms the dire need to obtain written, precise, compulsory and clear rules from the Ministry of Labor Force addressed to the directorates about the registration of trade unions.
- Secondly: The ministerial commission revised the file of workers' union in the Egyptian Company of Communications, and after approving the documents presented, recommended to deposit them at Cairo directorate of manpower; accordingly, the trade union president headed to the directorate on December 20 2020 where she deposited the file without obtaining in return any receipt proving that. The responsible employee promised to examine the papers within some time, although it is obvious that this operation should not last more than a week. However, two weeks later the union committee was informed of the directorate refusal to receive the file under the pretext that trade union members belonged to various provinces; the trade union head attempted to explain that she discussed the issue with the ministerial commission who accepted the file and the included documents, but the responsible employee replied he had nothing to do with this commission; we have here to clarify the following:
- The union committee of workers in the Egyptian Company of Communications had presented before mid-April 2018 a request to the Cairo directorate for the readjustment of its legal status accompanied by all the needed documents; however, this request was refused on the base it was on contravention with Article 11 of Law 213/2017; however, Article 11 was one of the specific articles modified by Law 142/2019 becoming as follows
"Workers at an enterprise have the right to establish a trade union committee for the enterprise, provided it has at least fifty workers who are members thereof.
Workers at enterprises who have not achieved the quorum specified in the previous paragraph, and workers at enterprises employing less than fifty workers, and those workers with crafts and occupations have also the right to establish an occupational trade union committee at the city or governorate level, as the case may be, whose members shall not be less than fifty workers. This shall be done jointly with other workers employed in occupational groups, crafts, similar industries or industries which work on one production provided such occupations shall be included in this industry in accordance with applicable international standards on the matter".
- Thus. the condition of establishing trade union committees at the city or the governorate levels is only applicable for workers trade unions where the scope of those trade unions is limited to the borders of the enterprise where it is established without need to define its geographic extent, while there is need to define this point about professional trade unions including workers in several enterprises.
- Enterprises as defined by Law 213/2017 applies to any project or service run by an individual under public or private law; branches located outside the city of the headquarter are considered enterprises as well as districts in the services' sector. Accordingly, an enterprise could be considered as a company with branches in several provinces or as a single branch.
- A memo was addressed to the ministerial commission explaining the obvious legal references cited above, adding that there were numerous examples of enterprises' trade unions that remained for decades without being suspected of contravention; one of these examples is the union committee of workers in the Egyptian Iron and Steel Factory whose headquarters are located in the district of "Tebbeen" with its legal department in "Abdel Khalek Tharwat" street downtown, and branches in the quarries of Suez, Beni Khaled, and other places. This single union committee continued to represent workers in the various settings through a system of proportional representation; the same applied to El Nasr Company for the Production of Coke and Basic Chemicals. Several other examples were extracted from the Official Journal published on 30 June 2018 on the base of ministerial decree 127/2018.
- Finally, the ministerial commission approved the legality of the Egyptian Company of Communications trade union composition, justifying the misunderstanding by the impression that it was a professional trade union; with the clarification of the situation, any obstacle before registration should have disappeared, but once again Cairo directorate of manpower raised the same problem ignoring the findings of the ministerial commission!!
- Thirdly: During the legal deadline, the union committee of fishermen in Damietta presented an application to readjust their status including all the requested documents and were handed in return a stamped receipt. Candidates to the Board applied also during the deadlines; however, they were stunned by the decision of the High Committee monitoring the second electoral phase to abolish their trade union committee; such decision has no legal base for the following reasons:
- The union committee of Damietta fishermen has attained the qualification of virtual personality since the date of its status readjustment according to Article 3 of Law 213/2017 and no other body has the right to dissolve it except its general assembly;
- Article 16 of the same Law specifies clearly the authorities of the High Committee monitoring the elections in three items that do not include the power of abolishing a union committee or revising the correctness of its registration; in consequence, the union committee of Damietta fishermen took proceedings at Damietta Primary Court that issued a judgment nullifying the decision of the High Committee monitoring elections; the Court judgment relied on the only authorities specified by the Law, denying the right to interfere in other matters such as the composition of an already existing trade union committee; it also referred to Article 10 of the same Law which stipulates that the only way to dissolve trade union committees is a request by the concerned Minister, or other concerned beneficiaries, requiring the Court of Labor Affairs to dissolve the board of unions.
- However, Damietta directorate of manpower and the High Committee monitoring elections refused to abide and made an appeal against the judgment that was rejected on November 5 2020 by Mansoura Court of Appeal.
- Despite this final judgment, the trade union committee remains unable until now to readjust its status or conduct activities, as the ministerial commission insisted to receive an executive copy of the judgment and a certificate from the State Litigation Authority stating that there is no objection against implementation of the judgment.
- While the judgment issued in favor of Damietta fishermen aimed only at abolishing an illegal decision, and as the object of the dispute existed even before this judgment, there was no reason of referring to the compulsory restoring of this right, which practically means that there is no executive document we can request from the Court.
- On the other hand, the State Litigation Authority stated that this judgment should be implemented immediately after its publication; the Authority declared also that it issues only two types of letters: letters for the disbursement of amounts judged by Courts, and outgoing letters to inform defendants that the Authority took the necessary measures.
- Therefore, the union committee of Damietta fishermen finds itself in a vicious circle despite the confirmation of its right through a final judgment.
- Fourthly: Within the deadline mentioned in the Law, the professional union committee of drivers' services in Qalioubia presented an application to the directorate of manpower in their province for the readjustment of their status with all the required documents; applicants received in return a stamped certificate. Following this, candidates for the board elections presented their files during the set delays, but once again the High Committee monitoring elections had decided to abolish their union committee, a non-valid decision similar to the Damietta case.
- This time also, a trial was engaged and is examined to date by the Court; lately, an agreement was reached with the ministerial commission to present a certificate about the current status of the trial without waiting for the judgment as the High Committee of Elections' decision was considered invalid and is not acknowledged as one of its authorities.
- However, the ministerial commission continues to procrastinate about the legal status of this organization.
- Fifthly: The trade union committee of real estate taxes' workers in Behera presented an application to the manpower directorate in the province which refused to receive the file under the pretext there were no directives to accept papers!
- Besides these cases, the status of many trade unions remains pending.
We, together with independent trade unions, have all welcomed the establishment of a ministerial commission which held regular meetings and begun to examine number of trade unions' files and attempted to find solutions; however, progress is very limited with the repeated stubbornness of the directorates, and recently the stunning letter of Gharbia directorate; all of these are indicators that do not lead to much optimism but rather raise many doubts and questions.
January 6 2021
 Law 213/2017 referred to the condition of 150 members for the establishment of a union committee and several articles were amended by virtue of Law 142/2019 where the required number was reduced to fifty.
 During its visit to Egypt the delegation met number of Ministers, other governmental parties and social stakeholders.