Egypt: Workers continue to struggle, face resistance

Egypt: Workers continue to struggle, face resistance

Last week, an international labor union oversight committee removed Egypt from a black list of nations who deal poorly with their workers. An optimistic move that leads many to see Egypt as moving forward, but ask many factory workers and they will tell of a worsening situation that has left unions on the outside and employees struggling to survive.

“We are forced to go on strike, protest and hold sit-ins just to get our voices heard so how can things be improving,” said Safwat Michel, a Tanta Flax and Oil company employee who has become a media spokesman since the factory first went on strike nearly one year ago.

Last week, a report from the Committee of Trade Union Freedoms removed Egypt as one of the countries that violates the rights of workers and trade unions in country. For a number of years, the organization had included Egypt on the black list of violators of trade union freedoms and the organization of independent trade unions and non-General Federation of Trade Unions.

“I don’t believe it,” added Michel.

The International Labor Organization (ILO), however, also revealed late last week that Egypt is in violation of at least 7 international conventions, which has led to a wage crisis in the country due to “the absence of justice in the distribution of wealth.”

Mohamed Trabelsi said in statements to local Egyptian newspapers, on the sidelines of the “Output of Technical Education and Labor Market Needs” conference that Egypt violates seven agreements of the ILO, including conventions number 9 on the work of sailors, number 55, which sets out the duties of employers in the maritime field, number 87 concerning freedom of association, number 94 relating to employment contracts, number 98 the right to organize and collective bargaining, number 118 on rational equality in social security and social protection and number 138 on minimum age for employment.

He added that the ILO has called on Egypt to correct these irregularities found in these conventions, saying that “we are ready to provide all forms of support to Egypt, whether technically or financially, to prevent the ILO observations” from being violated.

He attributed the crisis of wages in Egypt to “the absence of justice in the distribution of wealth,” stressing that the ILO had not received any request from the parties of labor in Egypt to provide them with technical support to achieve a fair minimum wage.

He explained that the increase in the minimum wage for workers in Egypt requires the necessity for a social dialogue between all parties involved, especially among the General Federation of Labor, which calls for 900 pounds, minimum, and human rights organizations demanding to 1200 pounds, and “then a negotiation with the parties concerned, whether government or businessmen.”

Participants in the conference on the outputs of technical education and the needs of the labor market in Egypt noted that 55 percent of the unemployed in the country exists with medium qualifications. The organization pointed out that two-thirds of educated people in Egypt are not highly qualified and “need rehabilitation to meet the requirements in the labor market both at home or abroad.”

Both almost contradictory statements come as workers in the country continue to protest and hold demonstrations in Cairo in an effort to have their voices heard. Two weeks ago, workers from across the country descended on Parliament, where they demanded a fair shake in the ongoing battle to raise their standard of living.

Still, despite the ILO’s statements and workers continued demonstrations, little has changed in decades for the country’s workers as the government points to positive economic growth as a sign of improvement.

Republished with permission from Bikya Masr