Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1291, (14 - 20 April 2016)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1291, (14 - 20 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Losing hard-earned gains?

Controversial amendments to the new civil service law are being studied in the wake of its rejection by parliament, reports Doaa Abdel-Moneim

Losing hard-earned gains?
Losing hard-earned gains?
Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt’s new civil service law has attracted more public attention and stirred more controversy than any other bill over the past year.

Contention over the new law intensified when parliament rejected the bill by a majority of 332 votes, making this the first it has turned down of the 342 new laws the parliament has considered. 

The bill has now been returned to the government for modifications in the light of observations noted by the parliament’s Manpower Committee.

Following the rejection, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati said the bill would be passed within a week after the modifications had been made.

However, Minister of Planning Ashraf Al-Araby has since said that it will take two months for the modifications to be made, meaning that the bill will be resubmitted to parliament in May.

Although there has been much talk of “leaks” concerning the nature of the modifications the government will make, no reliable information has been available. But many people think that even a modified version of the law will be unacceptable and difficult to apply in the Egyptian work environment.

According to a report by the parliamentary Manpower Committee, opposition to the law is based on eight points. Prime among them is that it is unconstitutional as it violates the constitutionally enshrined principles of equal opportunity and social justice for all Egyptian citizens.

Reservations were also voiced with regard to the proposed performance appraisal system, the hiring and promotion system, the system for periodical salary increases, the salary scale, anti-corruption provisions, the number of working hours and the disciplinary system.

All these objections will need to be addressed in revision. 

Fatma Fouad, head of the independent union of tax authority employees, said that even if the points in the report are taken into account, opponents of the new law believe that it is unjust as a whole and deprives civil service employees of many of the gains they have acquired over the years.

The new law will not promote the administrative reform the government seeks, she said, adding that opponents of the bill are also concerned by the government’s failure to solicit their points of view or ask for suggestions on the reformulation of the new law.

They are now preparing to escalate their campaign against the new law if the modifications fail to fulfil their demands for a law that establishes a “just” salary scale, incentives and raises, a unified promotion system, regulations limiting the powers of bosses, and guarantees for regular increases in sources of income.

“Law 18 of 2015, the new civil service law, will harm rather than improve conditions for more than six million state employees,” Fouad said. “Under the new law, monthly salaries will remain frozen without any real increases at a time of mounting inflation. This has reached 11 per cent and prices continue to soar.”

Public opinion has been sharply divided since the government unveiled the draft civil service law that it wants to replace the current Law 48/1978 in the context of a plan for the comprehensive reform of the government bureaucracy.

One camp believes that the new law will lay the groundwork for administrative reform, better employee performance and a higher quality of services. The opposing camp counters that the proposed law is unconstitutional and will not properly reform the Egyptian labour environment.

The former director of the Central Agency for Organisation and Administration, Safwat Al-Nahas, said that the new law promised to be one of the most successful in regulating the civil service system.

It remedied many shortcomings in the old law and would serve as a cornerstone for the administrative reform of government institutions, he said.

The new law would remedy the salary system and eliminate huge salary gaps within ten years. It divided total pay into salaries and related items, such as incentives, periodical raises and bonuses, and other sources of income, he said.

Al-Nahas said that MPs and members of society who opposed the new law were too hasty in rejecting it and had not read it thoroughly or accorded it sufficient in-depth study.

He said opponents to the new law make up only a very small segment of society and that they prefer the status quo as it does not affect rights acquired without having to produce work on the ground.

Kamal Abbas, coordinator of the Centre for Trade Unions and Workers’ Services (CTUWS), an NGO, argued that the new law gives directors greater powers over employees and fails to protect employees from unfair evaluations.

He was disturbed by the fact that the government did not solicit the opinions of opponents to the law, even when modifications were being made to the semi-finalised draft.

According to Abbas, it will take three years at least to implement the new law in its current shape because it borrows from systems applied in government administrations in developed nations, which have totally different work environments to that found in Egypt.

For this reason, the new law will be difficult to put into effect without adequate preparatory steps, he said.

But the new law is also flawed in other respects, Abbas said, notably in provisions relating to performance reports, working hours, and promotion and bonus systems. It will not remedy distortions in pay structures, even after the modifications the government introduced following the parliamentary report, he added.

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