The new labour organizations’ law shows signs of unconstitutionality and contradicts the measures and international labour conventions.. We request that the president not sign this law

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017 - 15:03


The new labour organizations’ law shows signs of unconstitutionality and contradicts the measures and international labour conventions

We request that the president not sign this law

On Tuesday December 5, 2017, the parliament ran a final vote on the law of labour organizations after short arguments on article 11 of the law that requires a minimum number of workers in the establishment and the minimum that have the right to establish a union committee.

There was an agreement on the suggestion that 150 members are necessary to form a union committee. The council did not respond to our request of re consulting about a number of articles although the request abides by the form stipulated in the statute of the council. In less than an hour the council finished with the law that organizes the formation and the work of unions; one of the most important pillars of civil society – if not the most important.

The council has discussed the law draft presented by the government after the labour force committee approved amendments to it on the 7th and 8th of last November and tentatively approved it in its two sessions during which attendance did not exceed fifty members in each. This happened in an unaccounted for hurry, especially that the council later delayed the final vote for four weeks.

In justification of hurrying the discussion of the law it was said that that was in anticipation of the visit by the direct communication committee that was sent by the ILO. As for the delayed final vote, it was said that this was to wait for the attendance of a suitable number of representatives or because of the disagreement of some influential businessmen over the number necessary to form a union committee.

The council – or rather the government and influential businessmen- finished agreeing on a necessary minimum number of 150 workers necessary to form a union committee as a middle ground!! This is while the acceptable number according to ILO standards does not exceed 20. The number specified in the laws of most Arab countries – totally far from any shadow of democracy- does not exceed 50 members which was the number accepted here in light of the law against labour freedoms number 35 for the year 1976.

Since the number required previously for the formation of a union committee is fifty member, the passing of the new law and its application directly means that a considerable number of existing unions will not be allowed to continue. That is, instead of developing the legislation that organizes the work of unions in a way that guarantees the freedom of forming them we have brought on a legal constraint that deprives large numbers of workers from practicing their right to form unions in their establishments.

Hence a law came out of the parliament that is worse then what it was like when it entered it. It stayed as is, shrouded in suspicions of unconstitutionality contrary to work categories and is sharply deviant from the ILO convention number 87. It is a law whose provisions are mysterious and its articles contradict each other.

The government and its favoured federation of unions insisted on cloning the expired law number 35 for the year 1976 satisfied by entering only a few amendments to it. This law in its entirety was a law to confiscate the right to form unions and deprive Egyptian workers from their right to form them independently of the “governmental” union. Therefore the law cloned from it was deformed, admitting in some of its articles the freedom to form unions while other articles strangulate it with constrains taken from the old faulty law. The model of the governmental union with its pyramid composition and its three levels is forced onto the workers and an institutional nature is imposed on it turning it to something closer to a governmental institution than a labour organization built by the workers of their free will.

The new law preserved the categorization of the old law with approximately the same number of articles many of which transgress on the mandate of the unions’ general assemblies and the right of its members in drafting their statutes themselves. We find it specifying the duration of the union circuit and the number of executive committee members and its mandate insisting on the titles and managerial style (a board of directors and an executive board. We are not only facing a tyrannical mentality but also a barren imagination that does not imagine a model or titles other than from which we have lived with and suffered from for decades including the conditions of membership, nomination to the membership of the boards, the reasons of the termination of the membership, the provisions for freezing the membership of a worker and terminating him/her as well as the conditions of holding elections that take place in one day in all the work places. The ministry of man power plays a direct supervisory role with the presence of a judge in each general committee.

The most prominent pitfalls and limitations of the faulty law is as follows:

  • The third article of the draft law includes a clear bias and lack of equality between unions belonging to the “governmental” federation and independent unions. The text of the article limits its legal recognition to unions of the “General federation of Egyptian Labour” while it disregards the legal status of the independent union. Although all existing organizations and institutions are supposed to readjust their conditions but the law exempts the federation and its unions from this even though the articles of the law that is supposed to have been cancelled that and according to which the Federation has gained its legal status are in contradiction with the current Egyptian constitution and the established measures of labour that are stipulated by the international labour conventions. This is all despite the fact that all the “formations” of this union are supposed to be annulled according to court verdicts.
  • Bias and lack of equality are clear in this article which not only results in it being unconstitutional but also has grave consequences if they are associated to article 11 of the law that states that “workers in an establishment have the right to form the union committee if they are no less than 150 members”. The use of the article “the” in reference to the union committee implies banning the establishment of more than one union committee, especially, if it is read in the context of the statements by the members of the labour committee in the parliament (leaders of the Federation in the past period of time). In addition to this restriction being a clear violation of labour convention number 87, its association with the second article of the draft law may practically lead to the banning of any union in an establishment where there is a union associated with the federation that has gained legal autonomous status meaning that they have existed prior to any independent union.

The right to form unions is a right that should be guaranteed to every worker by law. Organizing this right should not lead to hindering it. Since the condition of a certain number of members practically leads to depriving groups of workers that are less than the required number from forming unions and therefore there should be reservations against it.

According to the ILO it is preferable that no conditions be placed on the number of workers required to form a union. If this was a necessity from the point of view of the national legislator finds this necessary, the number should not exceed twenty members. What is strange is that as previously said, the number of members required for establishing a union according to the ministerial decrees that came out based on the current law is fifty members. Regardless of the other constraints on the right to form unions, the new law – that is said to be presented according to the requirements of abiding by labour conditions, is actually a regression.

  • The condition of 20000 members for the establishment of a general union and 200000 for a general Federation (article 12 of the law) seems to be prohibitive and may prevent many workers from preforming their right to form their unions and federations. Such number do not appear of any consequence to a union organization that continued to include governmental and public sector workers automatically or, to be more accurate, in a compulsory way – or semi compulsory- and deduct their membership fees from their salaries without going back to them about it. However they seem exaggerated if we are facing an independent union organization that is not dependent on the government and its administration has to make an effort to convince the workers of the role of unions and the importance of joining them

Moreover, the number of 20000 is contradictory with the experience of existing general unions where the total number of all workers in the sector in question does not reach 20000, such the public transportation union or even the union of workers in mines and quarries that is part of the Federation itself.

  • Article 12 of the draft law says that the union organizations have “to be made include in its levels: the union committee of the establishment or the or the professional union committee on the level of the city or the governorate, the general union, the Labour Union Federation” which is a copy of article 7 of the current law number 35 for the year 1976 which is the article that was and still is subject to criticism and rejection and is the source of the most important reservations of the ILO experts committee.

We are again facing a pyramid model  of three levels while reality, which is rich with diverse initiatives assumes the presence of unions in establishments that are not under any general union while some general unions refuse to join any federation. This structure also ignores sectorial unions and regional unions although they have existed in our reality in the past years and some of them are experiences worthy of respect

  • The number of workers upon which the adjudication of this law falls, which we believe is an unnecessary excess, led to the deprivation of some categories from forming unions. For example self-employed workers and workers in the fishing sector. Since the original right is for all categories to permissiveness and opening this right to all categories it would have been more suitable to refer only to the exempted categories according to the constitution.

Additionally this article ignored or intentionally excluded pensioners or those who are retired from the right to form their unions despite the inspiring experience of the pensioners’ union which is one of the most important unions in the past years as it was able to represent pensioners and express their interests and demands and ran many collective negotiations well.

  • Article 41 lacks the conditions of detachment and generality that are assumed in the legal text as it is known and understood that this text holds the intention of certain people continuing in their positions in the union after retirement.

The text also includes discrimination between the members of the board of the union organization and other union members who do not have the same right after retirement.

For this reason, this text that the labour committee introduced raised a strong argument because of the contradictory interests since most members of the committee directly benefit from this article.

  • Article 42 of the law specifies eight conditions for nomination to the membership of the board of a union organization which is a transgression on the integral right of the general assembly to establish its systems and chose its representatives. It is also a violation of the right of voting and nomination that are supposed to be guaranteed to all members of the union (according to the literature of the ILO only members previously convicted in crimes contrary to honor may be exempted from nomination to executive positions in the union because of the assumption that his integrity is trusted).

Additionally these conditions include that the member nominated to a position on the board should not be “temporary labour or seconded or lent to another organization..” that is it is set to the measurements of a union organization that “is almost one of the institutions of the regime” and the membership of which is restricted to the public sector in which temporary labour –was at the time- an exception!!

  • As a rule we reject penalties that restrict freedom in matters of civil activity and administrative transgressions.. more so in work that is supposed to be voluntary.

The law came out amidst suspicions of unconstitutionality, deviant from international labour standards and Labour Convention number 87. The law in its entirety is short of responding to the demands of the legislative change that are brought on by the economic and social reality, the elements of the labour market and the labour scene which are required by the obligations of the Egyptian government in accordance with the labour conventions and standards. It is not a new law that responds to the major changes in the labour scenes in the past few years but a masked attempt to revive the union organization law number 35 for the year 1976 despite that it is debunked for years now and despite that the incidents of the labour life in our country has challenged the model they are imposing by itself imposing hundreds of initiatives and lively diverse experiences.

We therefore ask the president not to sign the law and to return it to parliament to avoid doubts of unconstitutionality. We assert in this respect that the legislative authorities are not absolute and are restricted with respect to the

Constitution that everyone has sworn allegiance to. We also assert that contradicting the labour convention number 87 and the International Convention of Economic and Social Rights and is also contradictory to article 93 of the constitution in addition to other aspects of defect.

We also ask, as a precaution, that a statute be issued that explains the unclear articles of the law to avoid any contradiction to the international labour standards and conventions and to retract the faults and internal contradictions in its articles. For example we assert that we insist on removing the restriction on the establishment of more than one union committee in each institutions and setting clear, abstract and general rules to adjust the conditions of all union organizations (those belonging to the Federation and those independent of it) according to the new law and considering the levels of the union structure that are mentioned in the law, no more than examples that tolerate the existence of similar formations such as sectorial and regional unions.

We ask all the executive apparatus of the state to stay away from independent unions and stop all practices aiming at pressuring them to join the “governmental” federation.

Finally we call on all the democratic forces in our society to defend labour freedoms asserting that it is not only the battle of independent unions and not the cause of workers alone but the corner stone in any democratic society.

The Center for Trade Union and Worker Services (CTUWS)

Tuesday 12/12/2017



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