The international rights organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement on Sunday, coinciding with Labour Day or International Workers Day, calling on the Egyptian government to legalise independent trade unions and to cease ignoring “the basic right of workers”.
The rights watchdog encouraged the government to end the “decades-old” single official union system and to allow free and fair elections to union boards for the first time since the 25 January revolution.
This year’s Labour Day comes amid tensions between trade and labour unions and the government over a disputed set of legislations including the Civil Service law, the Health Insurance law and legislations that restrict self-organisation for labour.
A coalition of 36 workers and professions syndicates and unions is set to stage a protest on Sunday commemorating International Workers Day as a day of “mourning”.
HRW said the government did announce its intention to propose a new trade union law, but no final draft has been made public.
“The failure of successive governments to amend the Trade Union law, as well as recent decisions by the cabinet and the Interior Ministry to stop dealing with the de-facto independent unions, have led labour activists to fear that gains in their labour rights since 2011 are facing erosion,” read the statement.
According to The Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS), prime minister Sherif Ismail issued a memo in November 2015, ordering ministries to cooperate only with the Egyptian Trade Union Federation. The directive stated that this was meant to help take action “against independent unions and instigators,” the centre said.
“Protecting workers’ rights to independently organise is a basic right, not a luxury,” said deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW Nadim Houry.
“Egypt needs economic development for all, but such development does not come with oppressing workers,” Houry added.