Egyptian military outlaws worker actions for justice
March 24, 2011 by William Rogers
Left labor Reporter
The Egyptian government on Wednesday decreed that
fighting for better pay, better working conditions, and
the enforcement of the country's existing labor laws is
illegal. The decree is intended to stop a surge of
worker strikes, demonstrations, and sit-ins that began
before the fall of Egypt's former dictator Hosni Mubarak
and have continued despite threats from the military and
pleas by self-appointed leaders of the movement that
Under the decree, it is a criminal offense to
participate in a strike, demonstration, or sit-in that
disrupts the economy. Calling for these actions or
encouraging others to participate in them is punishable
by up to year in prison and a fine of one-half million
Egyptian pounds ($84,060). All workers are subject to
the new law regardless of whether they work in the
private or public sector.
The cabinet issued the new decree saying that the
strikes, sit-ins, and demonstrations disrupting business
were not necessary because the cabinet " is working on
a new policy to deal with employment and wages." The
decree will expire when the current state of emergency
is lifted. Egypt has been ruled under a state of
emergency since 1981 when President Anwar Sadat was
assassinated. A number of workers including postal
workers, teachers, hospital employees, and police were
still on strike at the time that the decree was issued.
About 6,000 teachers in the province of Qena went out on
strike on March 1 demanding permanent jobs for teachers
working under temporary contracts. The day after the
strike began, the Ministry of Education said that
temporary teachers with at least three years on the job
would be offered permanent contracts if they pass an
exam. The striking teachers rejected the government's
proposal and said that they would stay on strike until
their demand that all teachers working under temporary
and precarious conditions be given full-time, permanent
Many of the strikes that have taken place over two last
few months have been over demands that the country's
current labor law be enforced. About 300 workers at a
Samuel Tex Drapery factory went on strike for a 7
percent pay increase and to demand that the company give
workers annual leave, not force them to work overtime,
and not require new workers to sign a resignation form,
which makes it easier for the company to fire workers
and prevent them from collecting severance pay in the
event of layoffs. All of these last three demands are
covered by existing labor law, which for the most part
is not enforced.
Even though the decree outlawing workers' actions for
justice was issued by the cabinet, the military is
running the country now, and it alone has the authority
to decide whether such a decree is issued. And as it
turns out, the military is heavily invested in business.
Members of the military high command own companies that
among other things make electric appliances, bottled
water, olive oil, pesticides, and optical equipment.
They also own water treatment plants, hotels, nurseries,
and catering business. Retired military officers also
sit on the boards of directors of many Egyptian
companies. Companies owned by military leaders employ
tens of thousands of workers.
When asked by reporter Austin Mackell whether military
leaders had links to the business elite, Egyptian
journalist Ahmed Atleya replied, "They are the business
Workers refuse draft bill criminalizing protests, say
sector protests will continue
By Tamim Elyan / Daily News Egypt March 24, 2011,
CAIRO: Workers, activists and labor organizations
rejected a draft cabinet bill criminalizing "some
protests, sit-ins and gatherings" and said that they
will continue protesting for their "legitimate demands".
Workers said that similar laws have been issued before
but failed to stop labor movements. Their protests, they
added, were a continuation of the January 25 Revolution
in which social justice was one of its main demands.
"The cabinet did something terrible. This decision won't
stop protests because they are fueled by legitimate
demands and it will be condemned by the International
Labor Organization (ILO) as it contradicts international
agreements signed by Egypt," said Kamal Abbas, general
coordinator of Center for Trade Unions and Workers
According to the draft law, those who organize protests
or sit-ins that lead to obstructing work at one of the
state's institutions, public authorities or private and
public workplaces will be fined between LE 50,000 and LE
100,000 or imprisoned.
Those who organize violent protests that involve the
sabotage of production tools, harm national unity or
social peace, cause public disorder, damage or occupy
public or private property will be imprisoned for no
less than one year and fined between LE 100,000 and LE
The law would only be affective under a state of
Cabinet Spokesman Magdy Rady told Daily News Egypt on
Wednesday that any peaceful protest that doesn't
obstruct businesses or the flow of traffic is allowed
and protected by the law.
"Protests will continue and we will challenge this
decision. We are not afraid of being imprisoned or
fined," said labor activist Nagy Rashad.
"Our slogan will be unity for Egyptian workers and we
will show solidarity and support for every workers'
protest or sit-in," he added.
The cabinet said that all sector protests and sit-ins
have to end immediately, especially that the Cabinet has
responded to most of the people's demands which were
relayed through legal channels.
The cabinet added that it's in the process of drafting a
plan to reform employment and wage policies which are
the basic demand of sector protesters.
"People are now protesting after news emerged of
officials' huge fortunes and the drastic differences
between salaries of managers and workers in the same
institution," Kamal Khalil, spokesperson for the
Democratic Labor Party, which is still under formation.
"The revolution isn't only about freedom; these protests
are the continuation of the social part of the
revolution," he added.
A statement by the CTUWS condemned the bill and called
upon the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to reject
it and initiate social dialogue with workers, business
owners and civil and political organizations to discuss
"Egyptian governments after the revolution failed to
understand the labor movement and instead took an
arrogant stance from it and said it hindered democratic
transformation in the country," read the statement.
The statement said that the proposed bill is a return to
the practices of the ousted regime which criminalized
strikes through article 194 of the penal code until 2003
when Egypt signed the International Labor Accord, but
then it put constraints that made it impossible to
practice this right.
The bill is yet to be approved by the Supreme Council of
the Armed forces.
The bill was also condemned by the April 6 Youth
Movement that said, "It is unacceptable stifle people's
freedom of expression no matter what the reasons are."
"Sector protests can be easily dealt with through
opening a dialogue with workers not banning protests,"
added the statement.
"Counter revolution protests organized by the remnants
of the ousted regime can be easily stopped through many
other ways," it added.
Abbas said that they presented a suggestion to the
Ministry of Finance to establish a committee comprising
workers, business owners, government officials and
experts to run negotiations.
"We believe that this is the best mechanism to respond
to workers' demands, as it will discuss problems and set
procedures with a specific time schedule to solve them;
however, it was ignored," he said.
Workers said that after the 1952 revolution, two labor
activists were executed by the revolutionary council
when they were accused of being part of the counter
Late president Anwar Sadat issued a similar law in 1977,
banning protests amid social unrest on Jan. 17 and 18 of
that year demanding social justice.
Khalil said that the party is preparing a memorandum
that includes all workers' demands and will present it
to Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.
Workers previously condemned statements by Sharaf
criticizing sector protests for hindering economy.
"Workers' demands include the appointment of workers on
temporary contracts and the return of workers expelled
due to their syndicate activities. These require simple
decisions," Rashad said.
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