CAIRO: The Egyptian Independent Trade Unions Federation (EITUF) described on Wednesday the annual conference of the International Labor Organization (ILO) as one of the “most successful” for Egypt.
This is particularly due to the lifting of Egypt’s name from the ILO’s blacklist of 25 countries with the worst labor conditions, which includes countries that prevent freedom of association and the formation of labor unions, said Ahmed El-Sayed, EITUF member, at a press conference on Wednesday.
El-Sayed is among six members of the EITUF who were part of the Egyptian delegation at the conference, which took place in Geneva on June 1-17.
Each ILO member state was represented at the conference by a delegation consisting of two government delegates, an employers’ delegate, a workers’ delegate and their respective advisers. Representing Egypt beside the Minister of Manpower and Immigration Ahmed El-Borei, was the EITUF as well as Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF).
Even though lifting Egypt’s name from the blacklist is “great step forwards and a consequence of the January 25 Revolution,” El-Sayed noted that there is a long way to go as the Trade Union Law 35/1976 still remains.
The law restricts workers’ right to form labor unions or syndicates.
“The removal of this law will ensure independent and free labor unions,” El-Sayed said.
After his appointment to the caretaker Cabinet, El-Borei announced the right of Egyptian workers to establish their own labor unions and federations. Labor unions were traditionally under the tight control of the government through the state-run ETUF, which acted as the only official labor federation in the country.
Ehab Shalaby, EITUF member who participated at the ILO conference, told Daily News Egypt that El-Borei’s announcement was only a ministerial decree, but the law remains. The law as it stands, he explained, obliges all unions, whether independent or official, to be under the control of the ETUF.
The Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS) pointed in a statement on Monday to several attempts to establish independent unions that were thwarted or delayed for various reasons.
During the ILO conference, the EITUF clashed with the ETUF, which was repeatedly criticized for failing to protect the interests of workers as it operated under tight government control. Its leaders were allies of the former Mubarak regime.
EITUF member, Kamal Abbass, presented evidence of the ETUF’s position prior to the revolution.
“They praised Mubarak and his son, they supported [former petroleum minister] Sameh Fahmy and gas deals. They described the Omar Effendi deal as fair…when the regime fell all its affiliated organizations must fall,” he said.
The gas deal with Israel and other countries came under heavy criticism long before Mubarak’s fall for selling natural gas at prices lower than international markets. The privatization of the state-owned Omar Effendi department store chain was also criticized for being sold at a price well below the value of its assets.
“They have given up the rights of workers, done enough forgery and corruption and used our money to attack the youth of the revolution,” he continued, referring to the head of the ETUF, Hussein Megawer, who is currently in jail for involvement in the attack on protesters on Feb. 2.
The annual conference concluded last Friday after taking a number of steps aimed at moving toward what ILO Director-General Juan Somavia called “a new era of social justice,” according to a statement.
"I believe that future delegates will proudly look back and say: it was at the 100th ILC [International Labor Conference] where the roots of a new era of social justice started to emerge,” said Somavia in the statement, “Where the dignity of domestic workers was upheld; when the new notion of a social protection floor took hold; when we were told once again by important world leaders that our voice, values and actions were needed for a more stable world."
In a related note, Kamel Abou ‘Eta, member of the EITUF who was among the delegation in Geneva, announced the establishment of the Independent Pilots’ Union.