Monday,27 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1369, (16-22 November 2017)
Monday,27 May, 2019
Issue 1369, (16-22 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

State of the trade unions

Gamal Essam El-Din reports on a new law aimed at regulating trade unions


State of the trade unions
State of the trade unions

This week the House of Representatives provisionally approved a law regulating the formation of trade unions.

Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs in a plenary session that final approval of the law will be postponed until it has been revised by the State Council and more debates have been held on the most contentious articles.

Though the new law is a progressive step in terms of giving workers greater rights to form trade unions some of its articles still reflected the socialist policies which dominated Egypt in the 1960s, said Abdel-Aal.

“The law should reflect recent economic developments in Egypt, not least the fact the private sector has become the country’s major producer,” said Abdel-Aal. “Which begs the question why the law includes socialist articles which give trade unions privileges such as exemption from taxes and custom tariffs? This is unconstitutional. These articles violate the principle of equality among public institutions.”

Mohamed Abdel-Fattah, a member of parliament’s Manpower Committee, told MPs that the 83-article law strives to adhere to the 2014 constitution.

“Article 76 of the constitution states that workers should be free to form trade unions in a democratic way and that these unions can only be dissolved by a final judicial ruling.”

“The new law also strives to conform with international labour and trade union convention to which Egypt is a signatory,” said Abdel-Fattah.

“It sounds the death knell of the old socialist policy which brought trade unions under the umbrella of a single entity, the General Egyptian Federation of  Trade Unions (GEFTU).

According to Abdel-Fattah, the law gives workers the right to form trade unions in a way best suited to their aspirations and activities. Article 12 stipulates a quorum of 250 workers in any industrial plant or economic establishment is sufficient to form a trade union committee to safeguard the rights of all workers. Article 13 stipulates no less than 20 trade union committees comprising at least 30,000 workers are needed to form a fully-fledged trade union.

Mohamed Wahballah, deputy chairman of parliament’s Manpower Committee, argued that the law will prevent state intervention in trade union affairs. “The government is effectively prevented from exercising any kind of administrative control or supervisory role,” he said.

Head of GEFTU and Chairman of the Manpower Committee Gibali Al-Maraghi explained that the law gives trade unions a number of tax and custom exemptions in order to help them perform their roles.

“As these organisations have a limited income it was necessary for the new law to maintain the tax and custom exemptions first granted to trade unions in the 1960s,” said Al-Maraghi. “Trade unions can hardly perform their roles efficiently in times of high inflation if they are under-resourced.”

Al-Maraghi argued the exemptions do not violate the constitution. “Remember that laws on sports organisations enjoy the same exemptions and no one has said that is unconstitutional.”

Minister of Labour Mohamed Saafan insists “the tax and custom exemptions are necessary to help trade unions defend the rights of workers.”

“Union membership fees are nominally — LE1 per worker — making the exemptions essential.”

In an attempt to reach a consensus Abdel-Aal proposed cutting exemptions and obliging workers to pay higher membership fees. In response, exemptions were cut from 12 items to just five, leaving unions exempt from paying taxes on offices, contracts, celebrations, from paying public notary fees and stamp taxes.

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