Why the Egyptian government and activists are just not seeing eye-to-eye on labour reforms
Egypt’s manpower ministry and many labour activists agree that the country’s labour legislation is inadequate and needs reform. But the reforms included by government officials in a draft version of a new law do not go far enough, activists say, and instead they have proposed their own draft legislation.
“The current law does not achieve balanced working relations between employer and workers and as a result of the revolution, this has to change,” Yasser El-Sherbeeny, the spokesperson for the manpower ministry told Ahram Online in a telephone interview.
But activists from the campaign ‘Towards a Just Labour Law’ believe that both the current labour law and the reforms attempted by the government do not abide by international treaties and agreements and serve businessmen’s interests at the expense of workers’ rights.
The campaign, launched in March, aims to reach a partnership between employers and workers that will serve the country’s economic development while guaranteeing all parties’ rights, said Hoda Kamel, labour activist and campaign member, at a campaign press conference held on Friday.
Both the current law governing relations between employers and employees, law number 12 of year 2003, and the amended law currently being drafted by the government to replace it, contradict with international treaties and agreements signed by Egypt, argues campaign member Mohamed Abdeen. The conflicts include legislation on workers’ rights to organise and sections concerning collective negotiations with employers, Abdeen told Ahram Online at the conference.
But El-Sherbeeny asserted that the draft law takes international laws in to account.
“The head of the International Labour Organisation bureau in Cairo attends discussion sessions (on the law) along with legal experts, who take international laws in to account,” said El-Sherbeeny.
The campaign's draft law differs from both the current legislation and the ministry's draft in redristributing the responsibilities of state agencies and involving other parties in the process of strategising and monitoring labour regulations.
One of campaigners’ key demands is that the ministry should not be responsible for preparing, implementing and monitoring executive regulations.
As a result, the campaign has proposed the creation of an entity representing the ministry, businessmen and workers equally, to provide executive regulations and to develop employment strategies.
In addition, the task of monitoring how the legal regulations are implemented should be done by an entity independent of the manpower ministry, said Abdeen.
However, El-Sherbeeny insists that this task is the government’s role and would remain so in the draft law. “Councils based on representatives of workers, employers and the government tend to be inoperative because the parties do not usually agree,” he said.
The current draft law leaves the issue of setting minimum wage levels for private sector workers to the National Council for Wages, which has representatives from the three sectors.
“This issue is left to the national council because international agreements bind signatories to involve all three parties in setting minimum wages,” said El-Sherbeeny.
The campaign’s alternative law proposes however that the state sets a minimum wage for both the public and the private sector, said Haitham Mohamedein, a lawyer and labour activist.
Campaigners also insist that monitoring alone is inadequate, as regulations without deterrent penalties achieve few changes.
“The fine for employers who arbitrarily expel workers ranges between LE100 and LE500, which is less than the cost of keeping the worker,” said Mohamedein.
The campaign’s alternative law proposes disputes between employers and workers be subject to the judiciary through a workers’ court.
Additionally, the campaign proposes a potential penalty of three months in jail for employers who refrain from enforcing a judicial sentence or arbitrarily fire a unionist.
El-Sherbeeny said that invitations to the discussion sessions on the draft legislation are open to all and any relevant party is welcome to discuss the new law, but that imposing a certain position would be unacceptable.
Kamel، however، says that the campaigners’ next step will be to raise awareness among workers of their rights, to enable them to pressure for a law representing their interests.