Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Labour in the balance

Achieving a balance between the rights of employees and employers is the aim of a draft new labour law, reports Mona El-Fiqi

Al-Ahram Weekly

In a bid to find a balanced relationship between the rights and duties of employees and employers, the government has introduced a draft new labour law aiming to shake up the country’s existing legislation.

Two weeks ago, the Ministry of Manpower and Immigration finished a draft of the new law and sent it out for consultation to business and labour representatives. The new draft law will replace the current law, number 12 of 2003.

Since 2011 the government has introduced a number of drafts of a new unified labour law, but they have not gained the approval of employers or employees in Egypt, who have had different views about what is needed.

The new law comprises 270 articles that address all aspects of the Egyptian labour market. Among the most important is the right of the employer to terminate an employee’s contract and the conditions under which this can happen under the new law.

In its fifth section, the law also deals with safety procedures at work, saying that companies are obliged to institute emergency procedures in case of fire or other hazards.

Employees are granted the right to carry out peaceful strikes in conformity with the law’s conditions and procedures.

Employers and employees have reacted differently to the new draft law. Business associations have reservations on some articles, and labour representatives are divided into two groups. Members of the syndicates affiliated to the Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions have welcomed the draft. But labour activists and representatives of the independent unions are against it since they believe that the law does not meet workers’ aspirations.

In response to the draft, members of the construction, press, engineering industries, military production and chemicals syndicates met last week to discuss the new law. They concluded that the draft was one of the best introduced by the Ministry of Manpower since 2011.

However, in a press release the five syndicates suggested the addition of a supplement to the law including general regulations and to be signed by all the concerned parties. The supplement should include a statement to the effect that the aim of the legislation is to keep companies operating, to encourage investment in labour-intensive industries to fight unemployment, and to protect the rights of workers in the informal sector through social programmes.

Training should be given priority to increase workers’ qualifications and skills, and there should be guarantees that the law meets Arab and international regulations. Social dialogue should be the mechanism to achieve social justice and stability, the syndicates said.

Khaled Al-Fiqi, chairman of the Engineering Industries Syndicate, said the law was positive in its provisions concerning the employment of women and children. It prohibits children working under the age of 15, setting the maximum hours at six per day. The law also includes articles protecting the rights of people with special needs, he said.

However, labour activists at the independent unions argue that through its new labour and investment laws the government is working to remove obstacles to attracting business and foreign investors at the expense of workers’ rights.

Faisal Lakosh, a labour activist at the Al-Mahalla Al-Kobra Spinning and Weaving Company, said the government was ignoring the opinion of labour activists who opposed any dilution of workers’ rights. 


“The government claims that it has engaged in social dialogue and held meetings with workers, but this has not happened. We have not been invited, and we did not even see the draft law before it was issued. The government only met with state-backed trade union representatives who usually approve any draft presented by the Ministry of Manpower,” Lakosh said.

Lakosh said that the draft had some good articles regarding retirement, but it still restricted workers’ flexibility. “We need to have extra hours to meet our families’ needs and improve our standard of living,” he said.

Wael Habib, deputy chairman of the Spinning and Weaving Syndicate, said the government had prepared the draft law without participation from civil society. “The Ministry of Manpower invited trade union members who agree with the government to consult on the law, knowing that they want to keep their positions at the federation regardless of the law’s negative articles,” he said.

Mohamed Hano, a board member of Alexandria Businessmen’s Association (ABA), said the ABA was studying the draft and had held meetings with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce to discuss the law. 

The two weeks grace period given by the ministry to the ABA for its final opinion about the draft was “not enough,” however, according to Hano. It needed at least one month to study the draft of the law, which included positive and negative articles, he said.

Hano added that businessmen were seeking a balance between protecting labour rights and the needs of employers. “We require a law that encourages investors to expand their businesses to achieve the development Egypt is seeking, while maintaining workers’ rights and encouraging them to increase their productivity. It is a partnership relationship, and it should be balanced in the interests of development,” Hano said.

In the light of the country’s unemployment problem, the rate standing at 13.4 per cent according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics, Hano said the law should encourage small and medium enterprises that hire three or four employees to expand and hire more.

Due to problems with the current labour law, the majority of employers “escape” the official system and hire people informally, according to Hano.    

One of the issues that have stirred debate in the draft law is the minimum wage. Private-sector workers have long demanded inclusion in the minimum wage system, which the government adopted in 2014 and is currently applied only to public-sector employees.

Businessmen would prefer to see a system which determines wages according to productivity. Ahmed Al-Wakil, chairman of the Egyptian Federation of Chambers of Commerce (EFCC), told Al-Ahram Weekly that wages should be paid according to productivity in order to encourage workers to increase their production.

Al-Wakil added that the application of the minimum and maximum wage in the private sector should not be included in the law since human resources should be left to “the laws of supply and demand”.

 “I may have a worker who receives LE35,000 per month because he is talented. Factories are seeking to employ such qualified workers, who could also get more money abroad. If workers are trained to increase their productivity, the unemployment problem will end and demand for Egyptian labour will be higher, both locally and abroad,” Al-Wakil said.

He explained that the federation had reservations about the draft law. A copy had been sent to the 26 chambers in the federation to discuss the issues and give a final opinion by the middle of the month, according to Al-Wakil.

He said the draft did not meet Egypt’s ambitions in the coming period. “The labour law is one of the most important pieces of legislation affecting investment in Egypt,” he noted, adding that the new draft had “the same spirit” as the old labour law which did not suit Egypt’s development.

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