Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1279, (21 - 27 January 2016)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1279, (21 - 27 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Against the civil service law?

The parliamentary labour committee has refused to pass the new civil service law, but its future will still be decided in an upcoming vote, reports Mona El-Fiqi

civil service law
civil service law
Al-Ahram Weekly

The fate of the new civil service law is set to be decided by parliament in the coming few days. Law No 15/2015, introduced by the government last year, regulates the recruitment, promotion, salaries, pensions, holidays and bonuses of personnel in the state administrative bodies.

The law was ratified by presidential decree in March 2015, due to the absence of the parliament since June 2012, and has been in force since the beginning of the new fiscal year in July 2015.

The new law is one of 341 decrees issued by the former interim president, Adli Mansour, and the current president, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. The newly elected parliament recently convened to review them.

According to Article 156 of the constitution, parliament should approve or refuse the decrees within the next two weeks — a short period, considering the quantity of laws concerned. The parliament does not have the right to amend any of the laws.

The labour committee, one of 19 newly formed committees of the new parliament, discussed the civil service law recently and has rejected it. It described the law as unconstitutional because it does not achieve a just balance between public servants in different organisations.

The law does not define who will be subject to its provisions and who will not. Article 1 of the law states that it applies to “ministries and their departments, government agencies, local administrative units, and public authorities, provided that the laws and decrees governing them do not state otherwise.”

This means that government bodies or agencies established by special law, and there are many of these, may be excluded from the new law if their statutes exempt them from it. This ambiguity justifies the suspicions of civil servants towards the new law, which led to several protests rejecting it.

One problem is that the law was issued without the participation of society or labour organisations.

Gebali Al-Maraghi, head of the Egyptian Labour Union and a member of the labour committee of the parliament, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the committee’s 11 members had rejected the law.

“The law is good, but it includes many negative items that should be cancelled or changed. If it is legally right to approve the law on condition that the government makes the needed amendments and introduces it back to the House of the Representatives during the current legislative season [before July], it will be acceptable. Otherwise, the law will be rejected,” Al-Maraghi said.

“The committee’s report will be discussed soon by all MPs in a general session to reach a final decision.”

Another negative aspect of the new law is that it does not protect employees’ rights since it defines minimum working hours per week as 35 hours and does not determine maximum working hours. It also does not encourage employees to study and obtain higher educational degrees because it reduces bonuses to 2.5 per cent of basic salary, whereas they were between LE100 and LE200 under Law 47.

Ahmed Ashour Sakr, a professor of management at Alexandria University, is also against the new law. “It includes many loopholes as well as serious technical problems,” he told the Weekly, adding that the law makes jobs in the public sector less attractive.

“It does not link bonuses to the inflation rate. The annual bonus is reduced from 10 per cent to five per cent under the new law, while the inflation rate has now reached 13 per cent. This means that an employee loses eight per cent annually from his already poor salary every year,” Sakr said.

The new law also encourages corruption, according to Sakr, because salaries set by it are not suitable. For example, a first under-secretary at a ministry currently earns between LE13,000 and LE14,000 but, according to the new wage structure, his basic salary, which constitutes 80 per cent of the total, is LE2,065.

In order to fight corruption, Sakr explained that the government should increase the salaries of employees, not reduce them. “The law does not even commit to the minimum wage rate set by the government, estimated at LE1,200, since the salary structure starts at LE880 for new graduates,” he added.

The state administration needs real reform to improve government services, he said, adding that, in his view, MPs should insist on rejecting the law.

Egypt is among the world’s top-ranking countries in terms of the number of civil servants, since there are some 6.4 million state employees, being around 20 per cent of the total workforce in 2013-2014, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS).

Their salaries cost the government LE208 billion a year, or almost a quarter of public expenditure.

In addition to the cost of salaries, corruption and inefficiency have been major negative traits of the public sector. Many employees seem to take their jobs for granted and leave upon retiring at the age of 60 with a guaranteed pension. Promotion in the public sector is set by seniority and not performance.

A majority of university graduates used to wait without looking for a job in the private sector until they were appointed to a public-sector job by the government. The latter used to hire new graduates without selecting those who were the most qualified in terms of academic results or specialising in the fields concerned.

In an attempt to improve the performance of state employees and reduce corruption, a new law prepared by the Ministry of Planning was introduced to replace the previous law, No 47 of 1978.

The new law sets out new procedures when hiring new employees. The period of probation for new hires has been extended to six months, with the right to terminate non-qualified candidates without the need for any special procedures.

Under the new law, employees are evaluated every six months, and this is used to decide bonuses and promotions. An employee with two consecutive weak performance reports could be transferred to another position, deprived of 50 per cent of his salary, or even terminated.

To encourage civil servants to improve their performance, the law links promotion to performance rather than seniority. The retirement age has been set at 50. Female employees are allowed four months of maternity leave instead of the three months under the current law.

A new Council for the Civil Service is to be formed under the new law, and this will be entitled to make suggestions to improve the civil service across the country. The new law stipulates the establishment of a human resources department in each ministry that will be responsible for recruitment.

Moreover, a new wage structure has been introduced. A civil servant’s salary has always been composed of two components: the base and the variable. The base salary was approximately 20 per cent of an employee’s wage and formed the basis of his pension and social insurance.

Thus, upon retirement or injury, what the employee received was often too little to satisfy living expenses. The reformed wage package under the new law increases the base salary to 80 per cent of the total, in order to increase pensions and social insurance.

Under the new legislation, recruitment will be based on online applications and tests conducted through a government website to ensure transparency and equality.

Because of these positive items, Ashraf Al-Arabi, the minister of planning, has called on MPs to approve the law. As far as the controversial items are concerned, he has explained that these can be amended later.

Al-Arabi said that a refusal to approve the law would take the government’s reform plan back to phase zero and would also threaten the completion of loan agreements Egypt has already signed with the World Bank and the African Bank for Development.

Government sources said that another problem is that state budget has been set in accordance with civil servant salaries in the new law. As a result, any refusal of the new law by the parliament will cost the government LE17 billion.

However, Sakr said that the government’s justification itself carries an admission that the law is against employees’ interests.

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