Egypt: Independent workers' federation rejects president’s power grab

November 25, 2012 -- MENA -- The Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) issued this statement rejecting the Consitutional Declaration announced by President Mohamed Morsi and calling on workers to mobilise against the decree. Mass demonstrations have been called by opposition groups in protest at Morsi’s announcement.

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Dear Brother and sister workers,

When we heard about the Constitutional Declaration issued by President Mohamed Morsi on 21 November, all of us starting asking our colleagues:

“What has this declaration got to do with us?” “Will it be useful for us, or against our interests?”

Let’s look together at what is in the declaration, and what the president said in his speech in front of the Ittihadiyya Palace in front of his supporters.

  1. Honouring the martyrs and the injured, providing pensions for the families of the martyrs and those who can’t support themselves or their families because of their injuries – We’re completely in favour.
  2. The Attorney General – We want to see him put on trial. We demanded his sacking, but this shouldn’t mean that the executive imposes on the role of the judiciary. Where are the Field Marshal and Anan?
  3. Preventing the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and the Shura council –there are a number of reasons why we are concerned:
    • Workers are represented in this Constituent Assembly by the Minister of Labour, Khalid al-Azhary. Can anyone who has seen his performance during his time in office believe that he will defend workers’ rights?
    • We are not basing this on guesswork: all the drafts which came out of the Constituent Assembly have been completely empty of rights for workers, peasants, fishermen, workers in informal jobs. The articles which mention workers and social justice do not commit anyone to actually implementing anything – not the government and not the bosses. At the same time, the drafts protect the interests of factory owners and company directors: at present we find bosses refusing to pay workers’ wages and sacking them, or issuing orders to close down the factory and throw workers out of their jobs, even when they have enjoyed privileges and tax exemptions. They even took out bank loans and never paid them back!

The draft of this constitution ties the hands of the government and prevents it from taking any action to re-open companies which have been shut down, or saving their jobs, or winning back their rights.

Likewise the draft constitution cancels the quota of workers and peasants’ representation in parliament and the Shura Council. There will be no-one at all to defend the rights of everyone who works in Egypt, like our right to have a Labour Law to replace the unjust Law 12 of 2003, or a genuine law on the minimum and maximum wage, or social security, or universal health care for all citizens, or any of the other laws which protect many of the rights of hard-working people.

  1. Immunity for presidential decisions – How can the president issue laws, and work to implement them, without any one of us having the right to go to the judiciary to challenge them? What if he issued a decree banning all the unions which have been set up since the revolution? Would no-one be able to oppose it?
  2. As for the president’s speech – In his speech the president said that he would use the law against disrupting production or blocking the roads, if he didn’t issue a law banning strikes and sit-ins. How are we supposed to defend our rights which are being stolen? Are we supposed to let them kick us out of our jobs, and refuse to give us our wages? Or watch our colleagues dying or being injured because our bosses don’t provide safe workplaces? Or look on while the employers grab our share of social insurance? … And we’re supposed to do nothing?

The first law which the president issued after the Constitutional Declaration was Law 97 of 2012 which amended Law 35 of 1976 on trade unions. What we fear is that this amendment will be used to replace the heads of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation who stayed in post with the help of Mubarak’s governments, and are now past retirement age, with new leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood, affiliated with the new regime.

There is much which could be said on this, but we will just say briefly:

We have been prosecuted, detained, suspended from work, transferred and victimised because we practised our rights to strike and found trade unions. Why have we been waiting for two years while the government has not issued a law on trade union freedoms, but has instead rushed out a law in the name of protecting the revolution which criminalises strikes and sit-ins? How can they put strikers side-by-side with drug dealers and currency traders? Are we going to carry on saying “it’s none of our business?”

“No – this is our business!” These decisions are a direct attack on our interests. That’s why we have to stand and fight. That’s why we can’t let the president grab these powers for himself, and protect the Constituent Assembly and Shura Council from dissolution.

We call on honourable workers across the whole labour movement – whether in the independent unions or those in the unions attached to the Egyptian Trade Union Federation who are honourable and want to fight back – to come into the streets and join the protestors’ sit-ins, to gather as workers and raise these slogans on their banners:

  1. Amend the Constitutional Declaration as explained previously
  2. Re-form the Constituent Assembly with at least 50% of the members to be workers and peasants
  3. Guarantee trade union freedoms in the Constitution or the law
  4. Issue a new labour law guaranteeing workers’ rights
  5. Speed up the implementation of a law on minimum and maximum wages, and link these to rising prices
  6. Return of all workers who have lost their jobs
  7. Resignation of Hisham Qandil’s government

Workers of Egypt unite … for our beloved Egypt and for all our rights!