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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!!
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)