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Webinar on the Problems Faced by Independent Democratic Trade Unions
Trade Union Organizations Present Different Forms of Obduracy and Abuse by the Ministry of Manpower
Calling for the ILO to Convene a Tripartite Meeting in the Presence of the Prime Minister
On Saturday the 5th of September 2020 – 2 pm, the Center for Trade Unions and Workers’ Services (CTUWS) and the Campaign for the Defense of Trade Union Freedoms and Labor Rights organized a webinar via Zoom on the problems faced by independent democratic trade unions. Representatives of the unions of workers in Telecom Egypt, the Library of Alexandria, Leoni Wiring Systems, Al-Nasr Company for Fertilizers and Chemical Industries in Suez (SEMADCO), Tourism, Real Estate Taxation Authority, and the Department of Education in Suez, as well as the Union of Small Farmers in Al-Beheira and the Union for Drivers Services in Al-Qaliobeya, took part in the webinar, in addition to representatives of workers’ wings in political parties.
Kamal Abbas, the General Coordinator of CTUWS, opened the webinar by suggesting the following topics for discussion:
Progress achieved regarding trade unions whose status is suspended since the 14th of July 2019, in spite of the fact that they completed all necessary procedures, and submitted all documentations and papers needed for the legalization of their situation.
The Program “Strengthening Labour Relations and their Institutions in Egypt” was launched on the 8th of March 2020. It is implemented by the ILO in cooperation with the Egyptian government and social partners. Did starting this Program help independent trade unions to overcome obstacles they face in the process of legalization of their status?
Independent trade unions already expressed their opinion regarding the Program. They affirmed that it is necessary that the three parties owning it take part in the membership of the advisory body which will be assigned to manage it, and that they are represented in a balanced way in this body. So, the participants’ opinions of this are needed.
Finally, what are the suggestions independent trade unions have regarding the above mentioned challenges?
Participants engaged in conversation. Mohammed AL-Azab, from the Union of Workers in Telecom Egypt, described the difficult journey that his union went through with the Ministry of Manpower. The Ministry refused to legalize the status of the Union, although the procedures taken by it are sound and its documentations are complete. He confirmed that representatives of the Union have been subjected to great pressure during the period determined for the legalization of status of unions (16 March – 15 May 2018) as they were asked to join the Federation of Unions of Workers in Communication, which is affiliated to the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), that is affiliated to the Government. This was a condition for the legalization of their status. Because they refused to forcefully join the ETUF, their status has been suspended until now in spite of several rounds of negotiation with the Ministry of Manpower which promised to finalize the registration of their union, and acknowledged that the procedures they did and the documents they submitted are sound and complete.
Hamdy Ezz is the President of the Federation of Unions of Workers in Tourism and Touristic Transportation, which includes 17 first-level unions comprising 18,000 members. Hamdy Ezz stated that the Federation applied to the Ministry of Manpower for registration, and attached to the application all required documents. However, the Ministry refused to accept their documentations claiming that the establishment of the Federation is contradictory to the statutory classification of unions. The Federation was certain that its situation is sound, so it asked for a written statement by the Ministry to document its rejection. However, the Ministry refused to give them any written statement and continued its unjustifiable position; although the comparable Federation affiliated with the ETUF was registered under the same classification that the Ministry of Manpower claims is contradictory to the law.
In response to the issue raised by the President of the Federation of Unions of Workers in Tourism and Touristic Transportation, Rahma Refaat - Legal Expert and Programs Coordinator at CTUWS - affirmed that the classification of the Federation of Unions of Workers in Tourism and Touristic Transportation is sound, and that the Ministry’s allegations that it is contradictory to the law are false. Pursuant to article 11 of Law no. 2017 and its amendments, touristic transportation is complementary and related to tourism. The Ministry has to clarify in writing the legal bases on which it refused to register this Union. She said that CTUWS can prepare a legal memo to refute these allegations.
Talal Shokr - trade union expert and organizer - stated that independent trade unions could not meet the director of the Manpower Directorate in Alexandria in order to finalize the suspended procedures of their registration. However, he finally showed up and completed the procedures for the establishment of a professional first-level union for workers in journalism, printing, media, and monuments in Alexandria; which is affiliated to the “governmental” ETUF. This affirms that the Ministry of Manpower and its Directorates do these manipulations in order to refrain from applying the law. Escaping the application of the law in unacceptable, and must stop.
Hesham Awad, President of the union of workers in SEMADCO – which is affiliated to the ETUF – stated that the powers of the representatives of workers in the boards of companies were removed, and given to the managements of companies. The ETUF did not take any stance against the reduction of the representation of workers in the administrative boards of companies. Kamal Abbas stated that CTUWS had a clear stance against these amendments of the law; however the House of Representatives approved them.
Shereif Masry, representative of the union of workers in the Library of Alexandria, spoke about the different forms of abuse and restrictions faced by his union and other unions which were established, yet they were prevented from submitting their documents, and finalizing their registration. He confirmed that the practices of the Ministry of Manpower and its directorates reveal that there is no genuine will to enable worker to freely establish their own unions.
The representative of workers in the Library of Alexandria emphasized the remarks of independent trade unions regarding the Program on strengthening labour relations and institutions in Egypt, which is supposed to be carried out by the ILO in collaboration with the Egyptian government and Egyptian social partners. He placed special emphasis on the step related to supporting the Egyptian government to establish and consolidate an easy and transparent process to facilitate the registration of trade unions, including the conducting of comprehensive review of the process of unions’ registration. This necessitates the revealing of facts and of actual obstacles placed in front of representatives of independent unions and illegal procedures made against them when they try to register their unions.
Shereif Masry also affirmed that it is necessary to continue working on the achievement of the three objectives of the ILO Program in Egypt by the ILO in a well connected and synchronized manner. Regarding the third objective related to enabling establishments working in the sector of spinning and textile to benefit from business opportunities as a result of improvement of labour relations, and adherence to international labour standards and national labour legislations (Better Work Program). It is important to know the names of the companies on which the standards of the Program apply, publish these names, and know the steps taken to implement it therein. Finally, he affirmed that the Office of the Prime Minister has an important role to play as the main and primary representative of the Egyptian government.
Then, Mohamed Naguib – the Union for Drivers Services in Al-Qaliobeya - affirmed that many union activities stopped because of the practices of the Ministry of Manpower, although we did nothing but demanding to respect the Law. He also confirmed that the Prime Minister has an important role to play, and called for his intervention.
He also confirmed that the first objective of the Program is to acknowledge the rights to freedoms of association and collective bargaining, and to put them into effect under existent law and practice. Achieving progress towards this objective requires stopping all forms of obduracy and abuse practiced by the Ministry of Manpower and its directorates against independent unions.
Na'eima Mansour – the Union of Workers in the Department of Education in Suez - affirmed that the ILO Program should not be confined to holding some training courses. Its positive impact should be felt by workers on their ability to establish and register their own independent unions, and them acquiring legal personality.
She also affirmed that unions look up to the role of the Council of Ministers as the government entity sponsoring the Program.
Then, Rasha Amin – the Union of Workers in Real Estate Taxation Authority - referred to the fact that the Ministry of Manpower and its directorates put many obstacles in the face of unions instead of helping them overcome challenges and obstacles. She confirmed that the three partners own the ILO Program in Egypt in full partnership. So, no party should benefit from it more than others. What workers aspire to is freedom of associations.
Abdel-Fattah Abdel-Aziz, President of the Union of Small Farmers in Al-Beheira, clarified the obstacles put in front of him by the Ministry and the Directorate of Manpower. Each body sends him to the other. The Ministry started examination of his union’s documents with no reply until now.
Rahma Refaat then stated that the first step towards achieving the first objective of the ILO Program “Strengthening Labour Relations and their Institutions in Egypt” was supposed to be providing technical assistance from the ILO to the Ministry of Manpower in order to formulate executive regulations for the Trade Unions Law, and issuing these regulations which should be directed to the directorates. She stressed the importance and necessity of the speedy issuance of these regulations, which should include details of the registration process for unions. All illegal and arbitrary practices should be renounced. Manpower Directorates don’t have the right to refuse to receive union establishment documents. They should receive them, write a memo of this receipt, and hand an official copy of this memo to the representative of the concerned union along with the three letters addressed to the Bank, Civil Status Department, and the Public Authority for the Amiri Press. Then, if the Directorate discovers any errors in the documents or procedures, it may notify the concerned union within thirty days. If the union does not correct the flaws within a period of thirty days, the Directorate could refuse the establishment of this union before court. This is the statutory process they don’t want to respect. These executive regulations should also include determinants on how government bodies should deal with independent unions following registration, especially unions of workers employed in government entities. Government entities practice different forms of harassments and arbitrariness against unions, and this actually escalated in the recent period. These executive regulations should be circulated to all government bodies.
Kamal Abbas then concluded the webinar by summarizing opinions and suggestions made by the participants in their interventions. He stressed the call for holding a tripartite meeting sponsored by the ILO in which representatives of workers, employers and the Ministry of Manpower take part, in the presence of a representative of the Office of the Prime Minister as the Sponsor of the Program “Strengthening Labour Relations and their Institutions in Egypt.” The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the situation of independent trade unions, and oblige the Ministry to clearly and precisely disclose its reasons for not registering these unions.
Finally, it was stressed that workers will continue their struggle to establish their free democratic unions.