Why are Egypt’s independent trade unions on trial?

A Giza court commenced a case against Egypt’s independent trade unions on Sunday, filed by the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), which has called for their dissolution.

The ETUF claims independent unions are illegitimate and are not recognized by domestic law. Defense lawyers claim the ETUF is unelected and the government’s appointment of its leadership violates domestic law.

The case was adjourned until March 13 to allow the ETUF to present documents from its last elections in late 2006. Elections have been overdue since 2011, defense lawyers argue, with the ETUF’s leaders being appointed by the Ministry of Manpower over the last five years.

The lawsuit was filed by the ETUF-affiliated General Union of Tax, Finance and Customs Employees against the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) and its affiliates: the Independent Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Employees, the Independent Union of Sales Tax Authority Employees, and the Independent Union of Income Tax Authority Employees.

According to media reports, the ETUF’s lawyer, Ahmed Mortada Mansour, is seeking to outlaw all independent unions operating in Egypt, to shut down all funds and finances associated with the EFITU and its affiliates and to prevent independent unions from establishing financial accounts or collecting money.

The ETUF had monopolized Egypt’s union movement, as the only federation recognized by domestic trade union legislation, since its establishment in 1957, until the January 25, 2011 revolution, when Egypt’s first federation of independent trade unions (EFITU) emerged to challenge the ETUF’s monopoly.

In 2011, the Ministry of Manpower, under the auspices of then-minister Ahmed Hassan al-Borai, presided over the formulation of a new trade union law, which recognizes the existence of independent or parallel trade unions. However, this draft law has been shelved by consecutive governments over the last five years.

The ETUF’s traditional leadership has never recognized the existence of independent trade unions or federations, claiming they violate the law.

Conversely, a statement issued by the independent Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS) maintains employees have the right to establish unions according to the 2014 Constitution. “The law shall guarantee the right to establish syndicates and unions on a democratic basis,” according to Article 76, which adds, “The state shall guarantee the independence of syndicates and unions.”

Since the 1950s, the Egyptian State has voluntarily ratified the International Labor Organization’s Convention 87, concerning freedom of association and the protection of the right to organize, as well as Convention 98, concerning the right to organize and collective bargaining, which guarantee employees the right to form unions of their choosing.

Attending Sunday’s court session were renowned trade union leader and oppositional figure Kamal Abu Eita and several members of the Independent Union for Real Estate Tax Authority Employees, in solidarity with the EFITU and its affiliated unions, the privately owned Veto news portal reported

Abu Eita helped establish Egypt’s first non-state-controlled union, the Independent Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Employees in 2009. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the EFITU in early 2011.

Jano Charbel 

You have a right to access accurate information, be stimulated by innovative and nuanced reporting, and be moved by compelling storytelling.

Subscribe now to become part of the growing community of members who help us maintain our editorial independence.
Know more

Join us

Your support is the only way to ensure independent,
progressive journalism