The Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress (EDLC) was officially launched as an independent labour federation on Wednesday.
During a press conference at the Journalists' Syndicate in downtown Cairo, hundreds of workers from across the country, representatives of independent trade unions, political parties and NGOs gathered to announce the birth of the "long sought-after" body.
The launch also saw a big turnout of international labour organisations, including representatives from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) – the world's largest trade union federation, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), as well representatives of trade unions from across European and Arab countries.
Present at the conference was Kamal Abu-Ayta, president of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU).
"Both unions [the EFITU and the EDLC] represent the democratic labour movement," Abu-Ayta said. "Our goal is to attain the freedom to form unions."
The fundamental demands of Egyptian workers are, he said, a 'trade union freedom' law, the reinstatement of thousands of laid-off workers, the renationalisation of privatised companies, and a minimum and maximum wage.
The EDLC, which brings together 300 independent trade unions from across Egypt, was originally established in October 2011 as a broad labour coalition that sought to build a democratic independent trade union federation.
Since the 2011 revolt that unseated autocratic president Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian labour movement has made headway in challenging the stranglehold of the state-sponsored Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) by forming independent unions and federations.
Independent of the ETUF, the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress and the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) are the country's largest autonomous labour organisations.
"Workers want a government that respects them and creates jobs, respectful jobs," said Jaap Wienen, deputy general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation."Economies without respected workers cannot grow."
Wienen expressed solidarity with Egyptian workers and offered the EDLC association with the world's largest trade union confederation.
"Your government still doesn’t understand that workers have the right to form their own trade unions," he added. "We only see all these matters of not recognising independent bodies in dictatorships not democracies."
Since the 2011 uprising, labour action has been on the rise with strikes and protests to demand better pay and the elimination of widespread corruption across state institutions.
President Morsi's government has been accused of continuing the Mubarak regime's policy of stifling labour dissidence and opposing trade union freedom. Since Morsi assumed office, an increasing number of attacks on trade union activists have occurred, either through smear campaigns, the sacking of trade union leaders or even jail sentences for strike leaders.
In September 2012, union leaders at the Alexandria Port Containers Company were sentenced to three years in jail for leading a strike in October 2011.