Egypt placed on ILO blacklist due to receding workers' freedoms

Ahram Online, Friday 7 Jun 2013

The labour group cites concern for workers' rights in post-revolution Egypt as the country continues to witness large-scale strikes

Egypt placed on ILO blacklist due to receding workers
Egypt's Itisalat communication workers protest north of Cairo (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has short-term blacklisted Egypt citing the government violates the workers’ freedom standards, Al-Ahram Arabic-language news website reported on Friday.

Al-Ahram added that ILO’s experts committee on Egypt has received several complaints submitted by the country’s independent trade unions criticising receding organising freedoms.

The Islamist-led government has not ratified the Syndicate Freedom Law (SFL), a source at the ILO told Ahram.

The SFL was approved by Egypt’s Cabinet after the January 25 uprisings but the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, then the ruling authority, failed to sign on it.

On the other hand, the Egyptian government stated that it would reply to the ILO’s decision on Thursday during the 102nd annual labour conference held in Geneva.

Egypt has been placed on the ILO’s “short-term” blacklist for three years due to its violations of international agreements on syndicate freedoms. The ILO lifted Egypt from the blacklist in June 2011.

Workers struggles on rise

According to a recent report by the International Development Centre, an Egyptian rights organisation, Egypt is currently witnessing a sharp spike in labour and other social protests, with 1,354 protests recorded in March alone compared to 864 protests during the previous month. This means an average of 44 protests per day, or 1.8 protests every hour.

The report also states that the protests were held by 40 different social categories, with most being staged by politically unaffiliated individuals.

The vast majority of protests involved labour rights and rising fuel prices, the report added.

Within the past two years, the report went on, major strikes in Egypt involved railway workers, public transport workers, doctors and police officers.

After the January 25 Revolution ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, expectations were high that many of Egypt's social and economic woes – which many saw as the triggers of the uprising – would be minimised, and that demands for better working conditions and pay would be met.

According to the Egyptian Centre for Social and Economic Rights (ECESR), however, the number of strikes increased when President Mohamed Morsi won the elections, after which hopes were high for economic stability following months of uncertainty.

However, since 2011, Egypt has instead seen weak economic growth and rising costs of living. Government attempts to reduce subsidies have also led to rising prices for basic utilities, including electricity and natural gas.

What's more, the local currency has suffered a sharp devaluation this year due to dwindling foreign currency reserves.

The government is currently trying to modify an economic reform plan in hopes of obtaining a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund after the latter deemed an earlier plan 'weak.'

A modified version of the plan is expected to further reduce energy subsidies and raise sales taxes.

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