On Sunday and Monday, the Senate resumed discussions over the government-drafted Labour Law which aims to regulate the relationship between employers and workers. Senators gave their preliminary approval of the law on 2 January, and has now discussed, and passed, 245 articles out of a total draft’s 267. According to Senate Deputy Speaker Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, the remaining articles will be debated when the chamber reconvenes on 13 February.
Abdel-Khalek Ayad, chairman of the Senate’s Energy, Environment and Labour Force Committee, said the draft law had taken four months to review, with the committee holding hearing sessions involving an array of labour experts.
According to Ayad, the new law strikes a balance between the interests of employers and potential investors and those of workers. Reacting to concerns the legislation will make it easier to lay-off employees, Ayad insisted the draft contains no provision for the “automatic dismissal of workers.”
“The new Labour Law aims to regulate the relationship between employers and workers and includes rules that can be used to settle differences between them,” said Ayad.
“The law clearly states that a worker can be dismissed only upon a final judicial order from a labour court” and makes it harder for employers to fire staff suffering ill-health. It does, however, facilitate the firing of workers convicted of a felony.
Minister of Labour Mohamed Saafan said “the new Labour Law was drafted to reflect the fact that 80 per cent of Egypt’s 30 million workers are now employed in the private sector”.
In drafting the new Labour Law, Saafan continued, the government was keen to take the oinions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) into account. “We also tried our best to ensure the Labour Law complements the foreign agreements and conventions to which Egypt is a signatory,” he added.
Hossam Al-Khouli, parliamentary spokesman for the majority Mostaqbal Watan (The Nation’s Future) Party, said the party’s MPs approved the law in principle because “it is balanced, and serves the interests of both employers and employees.”
Senator Tarek Raslan said the legislation would help pave the way for the private sector to take the lead in mega-development and industrial projects and reflects “the fact that Egypt is now a market economy driven by the private sector, and also one where the constitution states that workers rights are protected”.
“The law does not allow automatic dismissal of workers, sets up labour courts to settle disputes between employers and workers within a period from 60 to 90 days, and stipulates that work contracts be drafted in a balanced way, reflecting the interests of both employers and workers,” said Senator Mahmoud Bakri.
On Sunday and Monday the Senate discussed, among other articles, Article 204 which guarantees workers’ right to strike peacefully as long as other avenues to settle a labour dispute have been followed. Article 205 states that workers intending to organise a peaceful strike should notify the concerned administrative department ten days ahead, indicating the reasons behind the strike and its duration. Articles 206 and 207 state that workers cannot strike to amend a national labour agreement, if they are employed in sectors serving national security interests, or by institutions providing basic services to citizens, as determined by the prime minister.
The Senate also approved Article 58 which bans the employment of children under 15, and Article 60 which allows children within the same age bracket to receive training for a maximum of six hours a day.
The draft law, said Ayad, also protects women against discrimination in the workplace.
“The minister of labour will be authorised to issue decrees regulating women’s working conditions and occasions on which they are allowed to take paid holidays,” said Ayad. He added that women cannot be dismissed because they take maternity leave, which Article 50 of the law guarantees for a period of four months, applicable for a maximum of three times in the course of the employee’s working life.
The Senate rejected a proposal to allow fathers to take a week’s paternity leave any time during their child’s first six months. Senate Speaker Abdel-Wahab Abdel-Razek said the proposal was a fine idea, but every society has its own circumstances. The Labour Ministry representative who attended the session said the National Council for Women had presented a similar suggestion, and suggested the government may take it into consideration at a later stage.
Article 56, which requires businesses that employ more than 100 women to set up a creche in accordance with the Child Law, was approved.
Following final discussions in the Senate on 13 February, the law will be referred to the House of Representatives. Once ratified by the president and published by the official gazette, it will become effective within 90 days of its publication.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.