Meeting about the
International Labor Conference
On Monday June 24 2019, CTUWS organized a meeting attended by around fifty participants to discuss the results of the International Labor Conference. Among the attendees were representatives and members in trade unions and workers' organizations, Dr. Ahmad Hassan El Borai, Professor of Social Legislations and former Minister of Labor Force, Mr. Mohamad Anouar El Sadate former MP and President of the Reform and Development Party, and Mr. Georges Isaac famous political activist and member of the National Council for Human Rights.
Kamal Abbas, CTUWS general coordinator inaugurated the meeting by exposing the following facts:
- The surprise expressed by the Minister of Labor Force and Migration and its accompanying delegation was an odd reaction seeming as if they did not expect the inclusion of Egypt in the short list of individual cases despite the obvious indicators leading to such conclusion; actually, the Ministry of Labor Force never interacted with the remarks formulated by ILO committee of experts nor did it provide answers to these remarks that were published four months earlier;
- The Egyptian government was warned following the publication of the committee's report that this would be the end result; however, the Ministry of Labor Force showed unjustified and not understandable confidence that it would never happen and accordingly didn't spend any real effort in order to avoid this situation;
- Last January, 29 trade unions presented the request to meet with the Minister in order discuss the harm due to their deprivation from obtaining a legal status which is in fact contradictory to the provisions of the Trade Union Law; however, before the neglect of their request by the Ministry of Labor Force, these organizations addressed every concerned governmental body, reconfirming the will to comply with the Law despite their objections on some of its provisions; they also referred to the committee of experts' report and the serious remarks it contained about the Law as well as the actual practices of the Ministry totally unjustified, stubborn and coercive. In addition, they pointed out to the unwelcomed results that might come out from the Egyptian Ministry's procedures leading to include Egypt on the short list of individual cases, commonly known as the "black list";
- These warnings were concretized in reality, and Egypt was put on the short list of individual cases for its practices contradicting the clauses of Convention 87 in terms of trade union freedoms; in addition, the joint Better Work Program was stopped.
All these facts require accounting the responsible bodies for leading Egypt to such situation
- The Minister of Labor and responsible in his Ministry continued to ignore the threat until Egypt was inserted on the long list of individual cases; at this point, they acted as if they suddenly realized there was a problem; accordingly, they hurried up sending Law 213/2017 to the Parliament with some of the amendments earlier claimed by the workers' movement and requested by ILO committee of experts. These amendments were approved by the government on May 22nd and sent to the Committee on Application of Standards on May 24th; however, they remain pending on their adoption by the Egyptian Parliament.
In all cases, this was too late and still requests accountability
- In an unprecedented practice, the official delegation formed by the Ministry of Labor Force - composed of around 45 members with almost twenty six employees from the Ministry - included representatives of the "governmental" Egyptian General Federation of Workers' Trade Union. It is legitimate to question the roles justifying the travel of such a huge delegation;
Isn't this another reason requesting accountability?
- Strangely enough, employees of the Egyptian Ministry of Labor Force begun by voting in favor of ILO budget and agreed about Egypt's contribution in this budget; then, they retracted their voting although the proposed contribution is by far lesser than the services and activities obtained by the Egyptian State from ILO; needless to say that such attitude – nor justified or acceptable - will contribute to create a negative impression.
If the reasons behind withdrawal of the vote were relatedto economic imperatives and the need to reduce expenses, how could we explain the exaggerated size of the delegation or the rent of a "Mercedes" and hiring body guards to accompany the Minister of Labor Force in Geneva during ten days;
Obviously, this also needs accounting of responsible parties about expenses incurred from public funds.
Following these preliminary explanations, Rahma Refaat presented an expose about the proceedings of the International Labor Conference including the following points:
- The Conference coincides with the Centenary of ILO which was established in 1919 in response to the humanity need to redress the deteriorated conditions of workers, heal the existing state of congestion, and attempt to organize globally a process of bargaining between workers, businessmen and governments.
- A statement was issued at this occasion about the organization's vision of the current challenges related to technology developments, demographic and environmental changes requesting new trajectories either at ILO level or at that of member States;
- The Conference adopted the Convention of combating violence and harassment in the world of work. Along with our high appreciation of this Convention, we call the Egyptian government to promptly ratify it.
- During the session of the Standard Committee that examined the case of Egypt on Friday June 14 2019 at 6:30 PM, long discussions took place that we summarize into these points:
- According to the Committee's rules, the Egyptian Minister of Labor Force and Migration was given the first intervention where he expressed his surprise and sorry feelings to see Egypt included in the short list of individual cases, saying that the Egyptian government deserved instead celebration and congratulation!! His argument was based on Egypt's efforts since 2010 until now to comply with labor standards and Convention 87, adding that important changes were achieved with Law 213/2017 by conferring a legal status to independent trade unions while they were not granted this status before;
He also said that all applications for the readjustment of legal status or procedures followed during the elections enjoyed the same opportunities and were treated equally; talking about trade union freedoms, he argued that while the "governmental" Egyptian Federation is the most representative body of workers, the delegation includes organizations that do not belong to this entity; he pointed out that the draft amendments were approved and proposed by the government on May 22 about Law 213/2017 as well the high committee of societal dialogue!!! In his speech, he promised to comply with all the findings that will be reached by the Standard Committee after discussion, and he requested that the Committee should accurately scrutinize any complaints received and ensure that they are truly based on evidence!!!
- Following came the turn of the Committee's vice president representing workers, who critically examined Law 213/2017 claiming that many of its provisions are not compatible with the Convention 87 on Trade Union Freedoms and the right to organize.
- The next speaker was the Committee's vice president representing businessmen; he praised the Egyptian government statement about its readiness to respect and implement the Committee's decisions after the discussion, focusing on the Committee's desire to be reassured that the Law and its practical implementation will enable all workers from establishing their organizations and freely selecting their representatives. In addition he expressed his regrets that the attempt to implement the Better Work Program in Egypt in March 2019 was stopped, saying that he hopes the Egyptian government will be able to fulfill the necessary conditions to resume the Program that will have a positive impact on investments and on the Egyptian economy; furthermore, he encouraged the Egyptian government to create a favorable working environment and promote a social dialogue in cooperation with all social stakeholders.
He also clarified that through its monitoring of the situation, the Committee expressed its worry about the problems encountered by independent trade unions including the unjustified demands of documents or the refusal to accept their applications.
At the end, he noted that Convention 87 grants the right of organizing to both parties as well as freely establishing their organizations and activating a social dialogue.
- Mohamad Wahab Allah, secretary general of the Egyptian Federation of Workers' Trade Unions, begun by thanking the Committee about its concern with the status of Egyptian workers; however, he refuted the inclusion of Egypt on the short list and requested the withdrawal of this decision stating that the General Federation believes in trade unions' freedoms and that he is one of the people who asked for the amendment of previous Law 35/1976 despite this demand was going against the Federation's interests. He added that many things have changed since the adoption of Law 213/2017, for example: powers are not any longer concentrated in the organizational top level, trade unions have obtained a full status of virtual entity, the right to withdraw from organizations is now secured as well as the right to apply candidacy for top organizational levels. He informed the audience that they were determined to organize elections in the forthcoming period to enable the trade unions where elections did not occur or the newly establish ones to attain legal status. Finally, he requested ILO technical support to improve trade union freedoms and abolish all means of discrepancies with Convention 87.
- A representative of Egyptian businessmen declared in turn that he was representing the Federation of Industries that includes 60,000 business owners. He added that we finally have today – after fifty or sixty years – a new law for trade unions that is being amended two years after its enactment on the base of the lessons learned from the actual practice; therefore, we request to be granted another chance as it is impossible to switch instantly from a state to the opposite.
- Following the previous interventions, the floor was opened to discussion that counted 23 interventions from several bodies in the labor process (i.e., workers, business owners and governments). Some governments expressed their support to the Egyptian government, namely Sudan, Algeria, Bahrain and Brazil. On the other hand, the speeches of the business owners' group focused on encouraging the Egyptian government to adopt serious and rapid steps in order to settle the issue and comply with the terms of the Convention. As of the workers' group, several federations critically tackled the Trade Union Law and its practical application, requesting the Egyptian government to enable workers of practicing their right to freely establish the organizations representing them.
- Final findings of the Committee were published on June 19 2019 noting that despite the enactment of the Law and ministerial decree number 35, there are still several contradictory issues between the local legislation and the Convention. The Committee expressed worry about the obstacles impeding the right of workers to freely establish trade unions and federations or freely join these entities under sustained governmental intrusion in the electoral process.
The Committee called the Egyptian government to guarantee that the Law will be empty from obstacles, to speed the process of settling pending cases and ensure the capacity of all trade unions to conduct their activities and freely elect their governing bodies at the legal level as well as the practical one in compatibility with the provisions of the Convention. It also requested amendments in the Law as to avoid restrictions related to the minimum size of membership at all levels impeding the right of workers to freely and voluntary create the organizations representing their interests. In addition, the Committee referred to the imperativeness of abolishing deprivation from liberty sanctions in retaliation of implementing activities falling under the scope of the Convention. Finally, it required that a copy of the Labor Law be sent to the Committee of experts before its next meeting scheduled in November 2019. At the end of its statement, the Committee called the Egyptian government to accept ILO technical support in order to implement these recommendations and present a progress report of achievements before its next meeting (November 2019).
- Following the briefing about the Conference proceedings, Dr. Ahmad Hassan El Borai criticized the government practices that led to the inclusion of Egypt in the short list of individual cases and the stopping of the Best Work Program as this will result in the withdrawal of some companies from the market and represent an impediment before the attraction of new investments.
- Former parliamentarian Mohamad Anouar El Sadate declared that what had happened should not go without accountability of the responsible.
- In turn, Georges Isaac confirmed the idea that MPs should question the Minister of Labor Force and Migration about these facts.
- These three interventions were followed by questions of journalists, including that:
- The secretary general of the Egyptian Federation of Workers' Trade Unions has presented the proposal of extending the trade union cycle of tenure while his primary concern should have been the inclusion of Egypt on the short list of individual cases;
- In an interview published in "El Masry El Youm" newspaper the Minister of Labor Force stated that none of trade union entities presented a request to the Ministry about settling their status!!
- Over ten representatives of trade unions refuted the Minister's interview, detailing the steps they undertook and their repeated attempts over several months to meet him and discuss with the Ministry's responsible their pending status; some of these speakers represented refused applications while others were related to new applications for registration. Some of the interventions referred to the trajectory of long efforts and others explained that they tried to reach the Cabinet of Ministries in order to have their complaints examined.
At the end of the meeting, participants expressed determination to pursue their efforts and obtain the normalization of legal status, formal recognition and the right of implementing their activities, as well as the right of all workers to establish their independent democratic trade unions.
Cairo June 26, 2019