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Egypt faces unprecedented labour rights violations

An Egyptian worker preparing threads on a machine at the Marie Louis textile clothing and textile factory in the 10th of Ramadan city, about 60 kms north of Cairo, on 29 July 2018 [Khaled DESOUKI / AFP / Getty]
An Egyptian worker preparing threads on a machine at a factory in Cairo, Egypt on 29 July 2018 [Khaled DESOUKI / AFP/Getty]

In its annual report, the Egyptian Organisation for Trade Unions and Labour Services monitored 8,041 violations of workers' rights throughout the country during 2021, including arbitrary dismissal, forced resignation, delayed payment of salaries and the absence of a nursery.

The Organisation, which won the French Republic for Human Rights Prize in 1999, revealed that many of these violations took place with the government's knowledge. Moreover, the government was a party to many of them, as 1,629 of these violations were committed by government agencies.

The most prominent events of 2021 on the labour scene

At the beginning of 2021, the Minister of the Public Business Sector and the Chairman of the Holding Company for Metallurgical Industries decided to liquidate the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company, one of the fortresses of the Egyptian heavy industry, claiming its vast and irreparable losses.

This was followed by a tremendous widespread rejection of the company's liquidation, a sit-in by the company's workers for 12 continuous days, lawsuits filed by workers and stockholders, and offers from several parties to invest in the company's reform process. However, all of this clashed with an unjustified insistence on liquidating the company, as if it had become a target itself.

While some workers were subjected to security threats to discourage them from rejecting the liquidation decision, a decision was taken on 30 May, 2021, to close the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company, stop working with it and prevent workers from attending, as a result of which more than 7,000 workers lost their jobs.

In an attempt to absorb the dangerous effects of liquidation, an agreement was signed in September 2021 between the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company (under liquidation) and the General Syndicate for Engineering, Metallurgical and Electrical Industries, according to which employees of the company benefit from the complementary end-of-service reward system for voluntary service before reaching the legal retirement age.

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Although workers receive acceptable compensation, this does not reduce the risk of layoff for this number of workers, especially since more than 70 per cent of them will not be able to obtain a monthly pension under the Social Insurance and Pensions Law No. 148 of 2019, which grants workers a larger pension. The 731 workers over the age of 58 were excluded from the agreement and denied compensation.

The year 2021 witnessed the issuance of Law No. 135, amending some provisions of Law No. 10 of 1972 in dismissal by other than disciplinary means. These amendments represented a severe expansion of the scope of the law's application. It added workers in local administration units, bodies with particular budgets, workers whose employment affairs are regulated by by-laws or special regulations, employees of public and public business sector companies.

The draft law not only expanded its scope of application but also granted the authority to issue dismissal decisions other than the disciplinary method – which was limited by law to the President of the Republic, as it is exceptional – to whoever is delegated by the President, under the pretext of reducing the administrative burden in light of the large number of bodies addressed by the law. However, this same reason seems to raise concern, as it indicates the intention to expand dismissal decision-making without the disciplinary route.

This law opens the door wide to the abuse by superiors of subordinates. It threatens to be used in settling accounts and defaming some workers, based on accusing them of belonging to the "Muslim Brotherhood."

In 2021, a decision was issued to raise the minimum wage to EGP 2,400 ($153). Still, this decision was rejected by thousands of companies in the private sector, as more than 3,000 companies submitted requests to be excluded from its implementation.

Although the decision to raise the minimum wage seems reasonable, it was accompanied by another decision that reduced its importance, as the government agreed with business owners to reduce the periodic bonus to 3 per cent of the insurance wage, instead of 7 per cent of the basic salary, which deprives workers of a part of their annual increases, established by law.

Violation details

During the past year, the House of Trade Unions and Labour Services monitored 8,041 violations of workers' rights in the Arab Republic of Egypt. The Delta region recorded 3,038 violations, followed by the Greater Cairo region, which recorded 2,670 violations (59 violations in Cairo, 93 breaches in Qalyubia, 2,518 violations in Giza), then the Canal Cities, where 1,116 violations were monitored, followed by Alexandria, which recorded 1,079 violations. In comparison, the Upper Egypt region recorded 130 violations and the border governorates only eight violations (this may be due to the weak monitoring mechanisms in these areas).

The third quarter of 2021 recorded the highest violations, with 4202 violations, followed by the first quarter of the year, which recorded 2258 violations, the fourth quarter, which recorded 925 violations, and, finally, the second quarter of the year, which recorded only 656 violations.

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The increase in the rate of violations in the third quarter may be due to the entry of the minimum wage for government workers coming into force, but excluding workers in the private sector, which led to an increase in the rate of protest movements and, thus, an increase in the number of exceptional measures taken against workers; the increase in its rate in the first quarter of the year to labour disputes related to workers' share of profits or year-end bonuses and, thus, the increase in the number of labour movements and violations. On the other hand, the decrease in the rate of breaches in the second quarter of the year may be because the quarter includes the month of Ramadan and holidays.

Violation of delayed salary disbursement recorded the highest rates, representing 35.9 per cent of the total breaches, with 2,891 violations, followed by the absence of a nursery, which represented 27.2 per cent of the total violations, with 2,190 violations. The past year also witnessed 254 cases of unfair dismissal, including 253 cases in the private sector and one case in the public business sector; 214 cases of coercion to submit resignations and 90 cases of signing a prior resignation.

The Union and Labour Services House monitored 11 cases of arbitrary arrest of workers, 5 cases of detention in an unknown location, and 18 cases of pre-trial detention. The reasons for these violations were the strike – a right guaranteed by the Constitution and the law – or because of opinions about workers' rights.

All of these violations confirm that the conditions for workers in Egypt are not good and that the regime of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi does not care about the poor workers and, in many cases, is responsible for violating their rights, either directly or indirectly, through complicity in the violations committed by employers.

Businessmen now know their way to get closer to the regime, donating directly to the 'Long Live Egypt Fund' of the Egyptian Presidency. The system then claims to be the first protector and patron of the workers.

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