Two international trade union confederations sent an open letter on Sunday to Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Prime Minister Sherif Ismail calling for the release of several Egyptian union members detained in the past week.
The letter was signed by the general secretaries of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Public Services International (PSI), which represents 669 public services unions in 154 countries.
The letter was also sent to Egypt's Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services (CTUWS), which provided a copy to Ahram Online.
"We are deeply concerned about the unprecedented and unjustified escalation of retaliation against independent trade unionists over recent days, and we demand their immediate and unconditional release," the letter reads.
According to news reports, eight members of Egyptian independent trades unions were arrested last week following union training events and attempts to organize protest actions.
Two of those detained work for the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company, while another four are employed at the Real Estate Taxes Authority (RETA), including the president of RETA's independent union. Finally, two workers with the Public Taxes Authority were also detained.
All those detained were apparently members of independent trades unions, the legality of which is still a matter of dispute in Egypt.
The taxation union members were arrested after several tax workers applied to the interior ministry for permission to hold a protest demanding pay rises. Egyptian law requires all protests to be authorized by the ministry before going ahead.
The members of the electricity union, meanwhile, were arrested after providing training to members of syndicates representing government administrative workers.
The detainees are facing a range of charges, including inciting strikes and demonstrations, misuse of social media and affiliation to a group banned by law.
"The blocking of a legitimate sit-in and strike action, as well as the arrest of trade unionists on security and anti-terrorism grounds, are a violation of the principle of freedom of association enshrined in the constitution and ILO convention 87," the letter said.
The Egyptian government introduced a law in 2013 that severely restricts protests and strikes, requiring prior notice from the interior ministry, which is rarely given. Thousands have been jailed for violating the law, including workers.
However, in December the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that Article 10 of the 25-article law was unconstitutional.
In April, the parliament approved an amendment to the protest law, according to which authorities have no right to prohibit protests once all documents have been submitted, except through a court order.
According to the annual report of the Egyptian Centre for Social and Economic Rights, issued in December, the governmental sector witnessed almost 478 “industrial actions” during 2016, while the public sector saw 133 actions and the private sector witnessed 107 actions.