Private sector work in Egypt is masked slavery

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Recent reports issued by the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics revealed a decline of the weekly wage of workers in the private sector at 13 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019, while the weekly wage of workers in the public sector increased by 24 per cent. Such data reflects what workers in the private sector are suffering in Egypt due to the absence of legislation that protects their rights. The government sides with the business owners against labourers.

The number of workers in Egypt’s private sector, whether official or unofficial, is 12.6 million, while workers in the public sector are only about 5 million. The average weekly wage in the private sector reached EGP 885 in 2020 compared to EGP 1,019 in 2019, while for the public sector it reached EGP 1,834 in 2020 compared to EGP 1,479 in 2019, which is double the average in the private sector. This gap cannot be explained by the working hours, as workers in the public sector work less than those in private sector, with average weekly working hours of 49 hours compared to 54 in the private sector.

A lot of private sector workers are deprived of health and social insurance. CAPMAS said that only 9.8 per cent of private sector workers enjoy social insurance compared to 97 per cent of the public sector workers. The rate increases in medical insurance with 25.7 per cent of private sector workers with public sector workers at 96.6 per cent. Only 23.9 per cent of the private sector workers enjoy permanent work, while the remainder are temporary workers.

In June, the Egyptian government determined the minimum wage for public sector workers at EGP 2,400 monthly. The decision was to be applied from the beginning of the new fiscal year in July. In parallel, the National Council for Wages determined the same value for the private sector workers, but the decision was aborted. The decision will now be applied starting from January 2022 instead of July 2021. Additionally, the council’s decision is subject to, “considering the economic condition of the business that could prevent it from adherence to the decision.” Accordingly, business could be exempt from the decision with its workers remaining on salaries below the national minimum wage.

One of the cases that showed that the governmental decision was insufficient was the crisis of workers at Lord International for fine blades and razors industries. The workers demanded the administration of the factory apply the governmental decision, and when the administration ignored the demands, the workers went on strike. In response, the administration sacked 49 workers and suspended dozens of others, referring them to investigation, and forcing some of them to resign. The most important point was that Lord’s administration relied on the opinion of the ministry of manpower, which sided against workers and said that the strike was illegal.

The situation of the ministry of manpower reflects the real bias of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s regime and its alliance with businesses and big capital against labour. Such policies are reminiscent of the clientelist system, which was established under Mubarak in the 2000s, when the regime used free market slogans to cover a corrupt alliance between power and capital. Such policies deepen popular outrage against the political regime.