Egypt on International Labor Organization’s blacklist again

Egypt is back on the blacklist of the UN-affiliated International Labor Organization (ILO) over the nation’s failure to issue a new trade union law in keeping with ILO Convention 87 concerning the right to organize.

The ILO blacklist includes 25 states, among which are Algeria, Libya, Sudan, and Mauritania, and was determined at the 106th Session of the International Labor Conference in the Swiss city of Geneva between June 5 and 16.

Egyptian authorities were warned about the blacklist when an ILO delegation visited Cairo in May and issued a statement regarding a 2011 draft law on trade liberties that protects the rights of independent unions away from the monopoly of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), and has not been passed into law.

The ETUF has maintained its hold over Egypt’s trade unions since its establishment in 1957. However, independent trade union federations began to emerge shortly after the outbreak of the January 25 uprising in 2011.

Egypt was previously on the ILO’s blacklist between 2008 and 2010, but was removed from the list when the draft law on Trade Union Liberties was finalized in 2011 under former Minister of Manpower Ahmed Hassan al-Borai. The subsequent shelving of this draft by consecutive governments has left the outdated Trade Union Law 35/1976 in effect, which only recognizes the ETUF, and controls the Manpower Committee in parliament, as well as all trade union legislation and the Ministry of Manpower.

The ETUF board has remained un-elected since 2011, with members appointed by the Manpower Ministry. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and parliament have both extended the ETUF’s term a number of times.

ETUF Vice President and MP Mohamed Wahballah announced Egypt would be issuing a new trade union law after the issuing of a new Unified Labor Law, which is currently being discussed in parliament.

Wahballah released a statement on the ETUF’s official website on Tuesday, criticizing the ILO’s blacklist and asserting that Egypt believes in union freedoms. On Wednesday he published another statement, asserting that Egypt has not violated international labor standards, and accusing the ILO of having “other political objectives.”

“Egyptian national security is a red line that cannot be crossed for the purpose of imaginary external agendas that are not in the interests of the common good and stability of this precious country,”
Wahballah said on his return from Geneva.

The ETUF previously declared independent unions to be illegal recipients of foreign funding and havens for political agents that threaten national security.

The blacklisting of Egypt by the ILO is due to be discussed in Geneva at the International Labor Conference on June 14, ETUF board member and MP Gamal al-Oqabi told the privately owned Youm7 newspaper.

“The ETUF has tarnished Egypt’s reputation both domestically and internationally,” member of the Independent Union of Pensioners Talal Shokr told Mada Masr, adding that several ministries, including the Interior Ministry and Ministry of Manpower have refused paperwork for the establishment of independent unions.

In April 2016, ILO Director General Guy Rider called on Egyptian authorities to revoke a ban that restricts independent unions from publishing official documents, prohibits collective bargaining and exposes union leaders to dismissal and arrest.

Dozens of independent union representatives and protest organizers have been arrested and referred to trial in recent months.

The ILO was formed in 1919, more than two decades before the establishment of the UN. Egypt joined in 1936 and ratified conventions 87 and 98 in the 1950s, but has largely failed to uphold its provisions.