Workers’ rights in Egypt: Lost under the auspices of the government

“The Egyptian factor is the nation’s true wealth, the engine of development, and the base for working towards a better reality and future, by strengthening the march of the national economy (…) Your country always takes into consideration and prides itself on your fruitful efforts, hard work and abundant production.” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in his Labour Day speech May 1, 2021

How beautiful are the president’s words about the Egyptian worker and his value, those words that no one can deny or argue with? However, there is nothing easier than decent and elegant words, and the question remains: Does the Sisi regime take care of workers and protect their rights? You will find the answer in the following stories.

Workers arrested

On September 19, about 3,000 workers of the Universal Home Appliances Company went on strike to protest the delay in payment of their wages for more than two months, and the erosion of their financial rights. The workers decided to sit in the factory until their wages were paid, and the arrears of incentives they had not received for five months, in addition to the nature and work hazards allowance that they had not received for 30 months.

This is not the first time that Universal workers have gone on strike to demand their rights, as they previously went on strike in 2019 because of the same demands, and the owner of the company, businessman Yusri Qutb, claimed that the company was losing and that he was faltering, so the Ministry of Manpower intervened in the crisis and all parties reached an agreement. Qutb was obligated to pay wages regularly, not to dismiss any worker, and to pay overdue dues, in exchange for the ministry to support him and pay half of the workers’ salaries for a period of six months.

The owner of the company did not abide by the agreement and returned to business as usual in terms of delaying salaries, disbursing them in more than one payment (sometimes amounting to six payments), and deducting parts of the workers’ entitlements, then the salary interruption began completely from July until now, which prompted the workers to go on strike, demanding the state to intervene to oblige the owner of the company to give them their rights.

Instead of the state intervening to restore the rights of workers, security forces arrested three Universal workers from their homes at dawn on September 29, in an attempt to intimidate the striking workers. The three workers were referred to the Emergency Supreme State Security Prosecution, which ordered their detention on charges of “joining a terrorist group and spreading its ideas.” However, the workers’ continued the strike and the escalation of their demands forced the prosecution to release the three workers pending the case. Until now, Universal Company workers are still on strike to demand their legitimate rights amid the complicity of state agencies with businessman Yusri Qutb, as it suffices to point out that there is no coverage of the workers’ strike in any of the official or private state newspapers.

Workers sacked

In June, the government issued a commendable decision to raise the minimum wage for government sector workers to EGP 2,400 ($153) per month. The decision has been implemented since the beginning of the new fiscal year in July. In the same vein, the National Wages Council decided to set the minimum wage for workers in the private sector at EGP 2,400 per month, but its decision was different from the decision for workers in the government sector, as it stipulated the implementation of this decision in January 2022 and not in July 2021, and opened the door for some establishments to be excused from implementing this decision, as it stipulates “taking into account the economic conditions of establishments that are currently unable to comply with it, and excluding them from that.”

The workers of the Lord Company for Trade and Industry in Alexandria wanted their company’s management to implement the decision of the National Council for Wages, so hundreds of them announced, in July, a strike to demand abolishing the annual work contracts system and signing permanent contracts with workers, raising shift allowances from EGP 10 and EGP 30 for one shift to EGP 50 to EGP 70 pounds, a comprehensive salary adjustment with a minimum of EGP 2,400 as the worker’s total annual share of profits, a pledge not to subject any worker to dismissal or transfer as punishment for his role in the strike.

The management of the Lord company responded to the workers’ just demands to dismiss 49 workers and prevent them from entering the company’s factories, accusing them of inciting a strike, and launched an extensive investigation with the workers who participated in the strike, roughly 2,000 of them. Thus, the company succeeded in suppressing the workers’ strike, amid the shameful complicity of the Ministry of Manpower, which Lord said it based its decision to dismiss the striking workers on the opinion of the Labour Relations Office of the Ministry of Manpower, which views the strike as an illegal act.

State-owned companies in line

In May 2016, the workers of the Alexandria Arsenal Company, affiliated with the Ministry of Defence, demonstrated against the non-application of the minimum wage to them, the reduction of the annual Ramadan bonus, and demanded that safety and security equipment be provided to them while working. The workers did not stop working, but they only demonstrated in shifts to demand their rights, given that this method does not threaten national security or disrupt production, as the government claims.

The workers’ move was met with a strong reaction, as units of the Military Police and Central Security Forces were deployed in and around the company, and a decision was issued to ban all 2,300 workers from entering the factory indefinitely, and 26 workers were summoned for investigation by the Military Prosecution where they were detained on charges of “inciting a workers’ strike” and “disrupting the company’s operations.”

The detainees were held for six months and were only released after they resigned from their jobs, and they are still being pursued by the military judiciary and threatened with imprisonment. These are simple examples of dozens of incidents in which the state failed to support workers, colluded in violating their rights, or violated their rights itself. Then the officials sing in their official speeches about how great the Egyptian workers are!