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Report on the Proceedings and Results of the Conference
The Center for Trade Union and Workers Services has conducted its three-day conference on The "Labor Standards and Conditions in Shade of the Global System”. Nearly one hundred participants attended, most of which are labor movement activists, union and labor leaderships, elite economic and labor experts, those concerned with labor movements and its problematiques, and representatives of Egyptian NGOs.
The following non-Egyptians also participated in the conference:
Esaias Barre, CCOO-Spain/ Adib Abu Habib, Former Head of the National Federation of Trade Union Workers Center for Workers’ Education Lebanon/ Ornella Cilona, CGIL Italy/ Jamal Chahdi, People’s Rights Organization Morocco/ Judith Dellheim, Rosa Luxembourg Foundation/ Hassan Barghouthi, DWRC Palestine/ Dan Connell, Grassroots International USA/ Dave Spooner, International Federation of Workers Education Associations (IFWEA)/ Rodney Bickerstaffe, Solidar (Brussels)-IFWEA Global Network UK/ Ghassan Slaibi, PSI Lebanon/ Francoise Clement, Attac France/ Christophe Aguiton, Attac France/ Lubna Bajjali, Women’s Organization to Combat Illiteracy Jordan/ Mohamed Azizi, Center for Democracy and Workers Services Morocco/ Nicholas Maziya, Labor Research Services (LRS) COSATU-SACP- South Africa.
Several problematiques and questions were presented during the conference for discussion and the development of general attitudes in an attempt to formulate appropriate alternatives and strategies to effectuate the labor movement. These questions can be summarized as follows:
In shade of present global system, changes of labor forms, and structural changes of working classes and the oppressed classes in general; and in view of the increasing exploitation facing those classes, especially in third world countries, labor conditions themselves seem to be in need of a revision. Are they enough? Do they suffice? Or are they in need of a revision given the present world context?
In the context of the global economic system, current conditions, in which unemployment increases; capitals roam the world in search of profit opportunities, wherever they may occur; the influence of multinational corporations increases, and their ability maximize to cross borders and chose the cheapest labor force. How can we find an effective mechanism to implement and monitor the implementation of fair labor standards?
The Center for Trade Union and Workers Services had proposed for its conference to discuss these issues that have become persistent and important to the extent that they need to be tackled and dealt with. The reasons for that are several folds:
At the inauguration of the conference, the CTUWS General Coordinator,. Kamal Abbass, presented Conference aims, which he summarized as the development of an appropriate movement strategy, contributing to the global movement which is intertwined with issues of globalizations, especially one month before the Fourth Social Forum to be held in Bombay.
To achieve these aims, the agenda has been constructed so that the first day is dedicated to debates on the current global system and its effects on labor status, and workers conditions globally and nationally. The second day includes discussions on work standards in light of this global system, then participants would appropriate movement strategies on the third day (round table and group discussions)
The coming section indicates the proceedings of the conference.
Dr. Saad Hafez gave the following presentation:
Dr. Hafez started by defining globalization as the historical period we are witnessing now, which forces a speedy conversion of all countries from a pre-capital stage to capital systems so as to be incorporated in the global market and system.
This historical phases results in various major contradictions:
Consequences of Globalization:
The current world order, which results in an accelerated transfer into the capital system depriving countries of its right of choice, has lead to grave consequences:
The effect of global system on labor conditions in Egypt:
-An increase in unemployment (closing down some public sector units, companies bankruptcy (about a thousand small, medium, and large scale projects annually), and privatization which lead to the decrease of the labor force and the early retirement system).
-Shift from per diem to piecework.
-Change of labor forms and the structure of the working class.
Upon opening the subject for discussion, participants contributed eight inputs, which can be summarized as follow:
Dr. Mahmoud Abdel-Fadeel (Economist and Head of the Department at the Faculty of Economic and Political Science) gave a presentation. At the beginning of the session, the chair introduced himself and the Global Network, which was established as a joint initiative of the Solidar Network and the IFWEA, in which the CTUWS is a member. The Global Network organizes its activities through its regional entities in the four continents. An annual regional meeting is held, as well as local seminars on labor related issues. The Network has concluded its first three-year program, and is embarking on its second.
Then, Dr. Abdel-Fadeel gave a presentation on the features and mechanisms of the new global system, being reformulates according to
the neo-liberal policies. The presentation stressed several points, some of which are:
- These policies are facing a campaign of criticism that comes, not only from writers who oppose it, but also from professional sites. This can be considered to be a global revival that started with this new century.
- There are several manifestations of rebellion against the present global system, from Seattle to Cancun, that illustrate the possibility of resisting the mechanisms of this order, provided that good preparation is provided.
- There are four important issues to be addressed when discussing the global system: trade, technology, money and financing, employment and labor.
Second: Scientific and technological advancement
Third: Financial Globalization
Forth: Employment and work
The following is the summary of the inputs of participants on these issues:
Dr. Farag Abdel-Fattah Farag, Professor of Economy and Vice-President of the Center prepared the paper presented in this session for African Studies. Mr. Ayman Shabana presented it. The presentation dealt with the effects of privatization on the economic rights of the working classes in the Arab region. It posed a basic question on the effects on the economic and social rights of said classes in countries that implemented privatization. The presentation concluded that privatization in the Arab region has led to high levels of unemployment. (The International Labor Organization stated that the countries of this region have witnessed the highest rates of unemployment among developing countries in the nineties). In 2001, the percentage of the unemployed was estimated to be 17.6 % of the total labor force of the region that year. According to the ILO, the main reason for this is not only the number of graduates qualifies to join the labor market each year, but also the policies of privatization. The study showed that unemployment is higher among females than males. (In Egypt, unemployment among females is estimated to be four times as much as among males and in Jordan twice as much). The study also highlights the wideness of random and informal sectors. In the countries of North Africa, jobs in this section are estimated to be 48% of the total work opportunities available, excluding those in the agricultural sector. Unregistered production sectors contribute 27% of the Gross Domestic Product in these countries. The study shows the decrease in the actual wages of workers in these countries. It also discusses the adverse effects of the policies package known as the structural stabilization and adjustment policies, which leads to the partial withdrawal of the state from services such as education and health, which used to be performed by it. This has deprived workers and low-income persons from these services and rights. The per capita share of health services deteriorated. The presence of various types of education (free governmental, private, and foreign) has lead to the re-organization of the class-classification, whereby those who gained privileged education and acquired high skills are able to acquire the job opportunities available.
The findings of the study emphasize the importance of standing up to the adverse effects to the status of the working class caused by
privatization. It suggests several measures for that:
The following were the inputs of the participants:
- It can be said that scientific and technological advancement can lead to an increase in productivity and surplus. However, if it is implemented appropriately in the correct developmental context, it does not necessarily mean that it decreases employment.
- Privatization has had catastrophic consequences on the peoples of the region. On the one hand, it leads to migration of wealth (as well as sales proceeds of the public sector units), and on the other it includes layoffs. The privatization of services deprives people from their basic rights, that should not be treated as commodities.
- Gender aspects have to be taken into consideration when discussing the results of privatization and other policies. (They have more effect on particular categories, such as women, children, and persons with special needs).
- The role of NGOs is not only to educate, but also to organize and enable pressure groups that defend people interests to change policies and amend legislations.
- More flexible forms of organizations should be created. Those who do not have regular jobs on production lines (informal jobs or random sectors) are not able to organize themselves in a recognized union form. This makes NGOs a very crucial tool in this field.
- All forms of solidarity are needed to develop the movement; solidarity between workers of the various sectors, solidarity and alliance between workers in factories and people in the community, and solidarity between workers in different countries.
The ILO lacks the mechanisms necessary to enforce the international work standards.
The international labor movement has given concern to the method in which international labor standards could be respected in light of international competition, free markets, and increasing numbers of free areas. Because of the inability of the relevant international organization to interfere, the movement has despite its respect to the role of the international organization and the desire to activate it done the following:
Working towards having the basic rights approved by the ILO be regarded as the "social item” that should be included in trade agreements between countries.[In spite of not calling for having an international minimum wage to allow developing countries to retain their relevant advantage of low production costs!!] It has also called for the formation of a joint entity between the World Trade Organization[WTO] and the International Labor Organization[ILO] to oversee the implementation of these agreements. However, both these attempts have not been successful so far.
Attempting to influence the policies of international financial institutions, through direct approach and through encouraging the ILO to participate in the formulation of these policies.
The International labor movement attempted to conclude agreements that include the basic rights of workers with multinational corporations, to be regarded as codes of conduct that these corporations should respect. However, these "codes” are not legally binding and are not in conformity with each other. They are based on the artificial assumption that striking a balance between the obligations of the employers and the workers gives the workers rights that are less than those of the company for "just competition”. Despite these efforts, multinational corporations are mostly under no obligations. The union movement remains incapable of imposing the respect of the basic workers’ rights in its establishments. It is not possible to attempt to understand the incapacity of the union movement in the field of applying international labor standards without viewing the issue from a more general perspective, namely the wider and deeper incapacity of the union movement in the face of the radical changes imposed by globalization.. The most important of these changes are: the change in the characteristics of labor; unions’ membership decreasing; change in the management of labor relations in a direction that decreases the formula of tri-fold negotiations and imposing individual contracts; minimizing the role of the state in setting economic and social policies and the transfer of this role to international financial and trade institutions and multinational corporations .
Nevertheless, there have been attempts by the union over the past years to face these challenges. These attempts can be summarized under two
main headlines: increasing the membership and organizing the new categories of workers, and international solidarity.
- Increasing membership and organizing the new categories of workers: development of the services provided for members; organization of rallying parties, organizing female workers, whether inside the union or through special associations; organizing and securing collective contracts for seasonal or temporary workers; establishing organizations for immigrant workers; and working on organizing the unemployed and those working in the informal sector.
- International solidarity: there are several obstacles that hinder development in this field that helps in facing the challenges. The most important of which are the restrictions on trade unions and movements in southern countries, in the fields of the right to organize union formations and the right to strike, and participate in international activities; the difference in languages, cultures, and religions; and occasional conflict of interests between workers in the north and the south. Despite all these obstacles, there exist some forms of international solidarity. However, trans-national collective contracts are very rare, even in E.U. There can be talks of social dialogue but not collective negotiations in the real sense of the term.
- Despite the repetition of instances of solidarity between trade union movements and the other civil society organizations, the relationship still needs mutual efforts for it to be more effective.<7p>
Participants discussed these issues with the Chair and the speaker. The discussion concentrated on:
Mr. Sameh Fawzey spoke of the World Trade Organization and international labor standards. He presented both arguments of the question of
including basic labor standards in the Organization’s agreement.
_ According to those who denounce this approach: the international action on labor's standards would contribute to the erosion of national sovereignty specially in light of the fact that the industrial relations are considered as a part of a wide social system, which differs from one country to another, there is no necessity for including core labor standards in the WTO work, as there is another international body, International Labor Organization (ILO), working on this matter and having the expertise and capacity to take on the responsibility, and most importantly (and it may be true) there is a fear among developing countries that the most advanced countries might use this issue to create a new thinly veiled form of protectionism and deprive them of using lower-wage labors.
_ The proponents of adding core labor standards to the WTO's list of responsibilities make a number of arguments: The intensive international trade has negative consequences on labor force all over the world. This by-product of the globally-based trade system has to be fully and constructively addressed, creating internationally acceptable labor standards will help prevent the flow of foreign investments from the advanced countries to the countries with lowest wages and weakest labor standards, the WTO already addresses non-trade issues like intellectual properties, consequently, there should not be any restricts on its work to protect workers' rights since workers are considered to be the first group socially and economically affected from the free world trade system, and the advocates of the incorporating core labor standards in the WTO agreements argue that such step would provide powerful incentive for member states to improve workplace conditions.
The speaker then moved on to review the various legal opinions on the issue, and important possible scenarios as to the way negotiations would go in the World Trade Organization and how they relate to the Disputes Settlement Body [DSB] of the WTO.
Inputes of participants on this issue have been varied as follow:
Some participants opposed, on principle, the including of labor standards in the WTO agreements, explaining that its mechanisms lack justness and transparency. They therefore refuse to extend its role into new territories such as labor standards.
Mr. Khaled Ali (lawyer / Hesham Mubarak Center for law) and Ms. Rahma Rifaat (CTUWS) have two presentations in this session.
The first speaker addressed The Freedom of Association and Trade Union Rights as one of the most important labor standards (Egypt case). He dealt with three sub-topics which were: the right to enjoy union freedom without discrimination, the right of all workers to join and form union organizations, and the right to strike.
The presentation reflects the status in Egypt in regards to these three rights. Laws infringe the first right, the most important of which is the stipulation that the minimum number of workers that can form a union is 50. Another is the actual denial of the right to form unions for private sector workers despite the lack of a legislation to this effect, which happens as a result of the complicated requirements for the establishment of the first union committee which is regarded as a practical obstacle. Law no. 35 of the year 1976 on Trade Unions and its relevant amendments completely hinder the freedom of all workers to join and form union. The Law identifies the organization of unions as unilateral and hierarchical (article 7 of the Law). It also deprives local union committees of all functions, turning them into "on-paper” committees with no competence. It allows the Ministry of Labor to interfere in the union affairs, starting from the rules for nomination and elections, to the supervision of elections, the right to oppose the formation of a union, and the issuance of the by-laws of unions.
The right to strike was permitted for the first time in the new Egyptian Labor Law no. 12 of the year 2003. However, this right was associated with so many restrictions and conditions, which prevent it from being practiced. The law stipulates that two thirds of union members should approve this, and it should not practiced in vital or strategic institutions identified by the prime minister as hospitals; bakeries; pharmacies; mass land, marine, and air means of transportation; means of transportation of goods; potable water, electricity, gas, and sewerage facilities; communication facilities; ports and airports; educational institutions; and all military factories.
The second presentation addressed Labor Standards in Egypt in Shade of Global and National Economic changes. In her speech, Rahma Refaat considered the existence of strong, autonomous and democratic trade union organizations to be the most important guarantee for the actual implementation of labor standards that makes the workers unable to express their interests, enter into negotiations and affect the decision making positions. Consequently, they lose their rights. There is no doubt that providing sufficient protection to the trade union rights through national laws, regulations and collective contracts depends to a great extent on the negotiation power of the working class and the balances of social forces. Accordingly, the right to form trade unions and the allied rights are not a mere part of the essential labor standards. They are the cornerstones of these standards. It is impossible to have a stable and strong union without protecting the right of association. The Egyptian legislation, namely the Trade Union Law No. 35/1976 and its amendments violated the guarantees stipulated by this convention as well as the two international conventions on political and economic rights and on social and political rights. The said law built its philosophy on the assumption that there is one central pyramidal trade union organization with the Egyptian Trade Union Federation "ETUF" on its top banding the formation of any other unions and devoted government custody through the Ministry of Manpower which supervises its elections completely and interferes in many of its affairs.
Depriving the workers from the right to form trade unions is a violation to a basic labour standard. Its consequences have direct impacts on other important standards. The rights to strike, negotiate and enter into collective agreements are closely linked with the right to form trade unions, which, if lost, will destroy these other rights regardless of any guarantees provided by national laws. This is not the whole story. The legal protection provided by the previous Egyptian labor laws retreated. All the labor relations, at the level of the nation, the sectors or the enterprises, were left to negotiation. So, the absence of a trade union organization that is a real representative of the workers' interests means that many of these rights are devastated and international labour standards are violated.
Inputs were then made on what occurs in the reality as to some levels of work in Egypt in light of the economic, social and legislative changes over the past few years. Some of these inputs were:
In regards of wages: Labour conditions in Egypt did not have, so far, a definite minimum wage-level. But it is traditionally recognized that the minimum wage level is 84 Egyptian Pounds [around $12] Needless to say, this amount is insufficient to satisfy the basic needs of a single person, let aside a family composed of 5 members. The absence of a legally binding minimum level of wages (with the exception of the Egyptian Pounds 84 which cannot sustain one person) gave employers a free hand to decide the wages which started to decrease day after day with the rising unemployment levels and the wakened negotiation power of the workers. When legal protection is absent, employers dictate their own unfair conditions on the workers. Many of the workers have to work for long hours without taking holidays against 200 or 300 pounds per month. But those who work the legal hours only get no more than the 84 pounds.
The new Labor Law no. 12 of the year 2003 stipulates the formation of a national council for wages that would be responsible for determining minimum wages. This highlights the problem of workers’ representation, as they do not have a strong enough organization that can participate and led a collective negotiation process at such an important level. Retreating Legal Protection for the Worker's Right to Formal Permanent Work [Job security]: During the last decade, the Egyptian working class witnessed big changes in the relative weights of formal permanent employment and informal employment. Large numbers of the public sector workers were laid off or had early pensions. The public sector shrank in size due to selling or liquidating its units. While the informal sector grew larger, many of the private industrial and services sectors in addition to agricultural and seasonal workers became informal workers.
In spite of the legal protection provided by the previous labour law (NO. 137/1981) for the workers' right in permanent and formal employment, some workers are forced to sign "resignation forms" before they are given actual employment. This has become a phenomenon well known by everybody. In stead of trying to stop this practice by offering more legal protection to the workers who are the weakest link in the chain, the new Labour Law No. 12/2003 legalized it when it opened the door at full hinges to temporary employment without any actual safeguards. The employer has the choice to take any worker from the long unemployed lines, but the worker has no choice because he is seeking sustenance for his family. The logical result is that the temporary labour contracts are increasing and permanent contracts are vanishing. What is said about temporary contracts is similarly applicable on the other rights. The employer may renew or terminate the contract at any time without any need to call it "arbitrary dismissal". Why then does he make the worker sign his resignation before he starts o work?
Working women: The new Labour Law contains blunt contravention to the woman's reproductive rights and to the international standards and conventions. According to the new law, a woman must have at least ten months of service in order to take delivery vacation. Her right to take care of her this vacation is limited to 2 times throughout her life. The new labour law provisions are not applicable on house servants and similar workers who are mostly women. Also the law excludes agricultural female workers from the provisions of women employment.
Child labor: Although the new labour law raised the minimum age of the working child to 14 years or after the child completes elementary education, but it have opened a back door to child labour when it allowed apprenticeship and training at the age of 12. The law has also excluded the children who work in agricultural activities. However, the children in rural areas are subject to serious conditions. During 1997/1998 over 200 child died or were drowned in several Egyptian villages in transportation accidents as they are jammed in old tractors that carry them to and from the fields.
Social Security and Social Insurances: The Egyptian social security network was closely linked with the public sector. When the public sector started to collapse and disappear, the majority of the Egyptians became outside this network. In shade of the temporary contracts and continuous rotation of workers, it has become impossible to protect their social insurance rights. According to the social insurance law No. 79/1975, a worker has to subscribe in the system for 20 years in order to be entitled to old age pension and for 10 years at least to be entitled to death or disability compensation. The Egyptian social security network is totally incapable of standing before the current economic and social changes.
The Right to Strike and Collective Bargaining: In addition to the restrictions imposed by the law on the right to strike, which renders it un-practicable, The mechanisms of strike and collective bargaining cannot gain sufficient space without lifting all the restrictions on the right of association and the right to form trade unions not only to keep in harmony with the international conventions and instruments ratified by the Government of Egypt, but also because it is not feasible to withdraw all the direct legal protection of the workers and do without many of the conditions of labour, collective negotiation and collective agreements whereas the restrictions forced on trade union rights continue to weaken the workers' negotiating power to the maximum possible level.
The participants, Chair and the speakers exchanged their experience on these issues. Some of the comments were:
Was dedicated to the study of the movement strategies. Participants discussed what has been revealed during the previous two days. Mr. Ghassan Slaiby facilitated the discussions, which resulted in selecting the right to organize as the most important and crucial of the labor standards. Making progress in relation to this rights would serve as an important key to the advancement of the labor movement and the achieve of other successes. Then, participants moved on to discuss the measure necessary to implement this right in Egypt, and establish appropriate relevant strategies. Participants were divided into four Egyptian groups, one for Arabs and one for English-speaking participants. Each group set the necessary actions from its point of view, then groups came together to review final outcomes.
First: Expressing the attitudes expressed in the first two days of the conference
Second: the outcomes of the discussions and workgroups
1. Work strategies at the local level (Egypt)
For The Center for Trade Union and Workers Services to contribute in this, it should:
- To develop the workers school.
- Extend relations with irregular workers sectors.
- Develop worker activists who have the needed abilities to create appropriate forms of organization.
- Raise workers awareness as to their rights, and support their demands helping in crystallizing them.
- Provide support and legal services to workers who are having labor relations problems, individually and collectively.
- Organize pressure groups and campaigns to stand up to violations of labor standards and improve labor conditions.
2. Movement strategies at the Arab level
3. Movement Strategies at the international level
The international Participants took the responsibility of helping the workers movement in the following points:
1- Strengthening the interactive communication through the coming steps:
a) Assisting CTUWS to develop a library, books films, etc;
b) Making the Center aware of the external recourses:
-Web sites, e-mail contacts organizations working on labor issues, etc.
-Make a special link for the center on their web sites so that the visitors of these sites could see the link and know what is happening there in Egypt.
c) Helping the center to gather and translate materials on Egyptian labor that is available in the international institutions and not in Egypt.
2- Developing an "alarm system” to ensure an emergency response network to mobilize solidarity.
3- Building strong international relations through the coming points:
Pushing ICFTU to give attention to workers demands and struggle for democracy and unions rights in Egypt and Arab countries.
Zwei) Linking the Egyptian workers movement (and CTUWS) with European and N American trade unions and social movements.
c) Linking the specific local unions and workers movements with their counterparts in Europe and N.America in the same transnational corporations.
4- Strengthen the relations among the centers in the Arab World.
5- Supporting the development of the labor school.
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