Independent trades union candidates to stand in Egyptian general election

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A court in the governorate of Qalioubiya, north of Cairo, has ruled in favour of independent trade union candidates taking part in the general election.

Independent trade union members are fighting for their right to run as worker representatives in the upcoming parliamentary elections; Wednesday’s court ruling could set a precedent as other governorates head to the court

On Wednesday, lawyers from the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights succeeded in obtaining a ruling from the Court of Administrative Justice in the governorate of Qalioubiya which confirms the eligibility of the Egyptian Independent Trade Unions Federation (EITUF) in granting candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections the right to run as representatives of workers.

‘The information provided in the certification documents issued by the EITUF include all required data to prove status of the candidate, thus should be considered a legal document,’ stated the court’s verdict.

The ruling could set a precedent as independent trade union members take their fight to the courts in other governorates.

Candidates in a handful of governorates, such as Giza, Menoufiya, and Qalioubiya – the first two governorates fall within round two of the elections while the third falls within round three – have been denied the right to run as a worker representative by the governorates’ elections commissions.

In a July 20 decree, Egypt’s military rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), maintained a 47-year-old quota for representatives of workers and peasants in both the upper and lower houses of Egypt’s Parliament.

In March, Egypt’s manpower minister, Ahmed Hassan El-Borai announced the right of Egyptian workers to establish their own labour unions and federations, an action hailed by the International Labour Organisation.

However, a new trade union has yet to be passed by SCAF, creating confusion as to the formation of multiple unions. Following the August enforcement of a 2006 judgement, the board of the state-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) was dissolved, raising questions on trade union pluralism and the future of both the ETUF and EITUF.

The ruling on Wednesday is a step in granting legal legitimacy to the EITUF and the more than 90 independent trade unions that have formed in the wake of the 18-day uprising.

The ruling will allow several unionists and EITUF members such as Tarek Mostafa Abdel-Fattah, secretary-general of the Real Estate Tax Union, and Mohammed Morshed, press secretary of the Real Estate Tax Union, to run in the coming parliamentary polls.

The Real Estate Tax Union was the first union to formally secede from the government-run ETUF.

According to Fatma Ramadan, a socialist activist and labour organiser, six candidates in Giza have seen their worker’s status shot down by the governorates election commission.

‘The fact that only a handful of Egypt’s governorates have refused to recognise members of independent trade unions seems to indicate that the cause is either disorganisation in these governorates or personal agendas,’ Ramadan stated.

Giza’s court hearing was held Wednesday afternoon, and labour activists are, as of print, waiting for the official verdict.

Trade union members in the governorate of Menoufiya, however, will have to wait until November 22 – less than a month before the start of the second round on December 14 – after the court postponed their hearing.

‘They have all the paper work. There is no legal reason why they should put it off in this way,’ said Ramadan.

• Mega Textile workers have called for a protest in front of the Turkish embassy.

Workers fear attacks from thugs and called for a protest outside the Turkish embassy on Saturday to stop Turkish management pressure.

Mega Textile workers, on strike for the last four days, intend to escalate their protest as management insists on dismissing 43 workers, including all members of the factory’s independent syndicate.

On Wednesday the management resorted to the force of thugs to empty strike locations.

‘They called body guards and thugs from Cairo, as the tribes they are using to threaten us said they will protect the factory from outside but won’t enter inside,’ said Saad Shaaban, head of Al-Sadat City’s independent trade union.

Workers say that nobody can enter the company. ‘The management wants to empty the company’s location of striking workers and doesn’t want them to spend the night inside. We fear a massacre could take place tonight,’ said Asmaa, a member of the company union.

As the large majority of workers are female, male workers took responsibility for perpetuating the sit-in during the night. Each day between 40 and 50 workers sleep in the factory in shifts. ‘There are around 50 thugs; we fear for our colleagues,’ says a female worker.

Mega Textile workers issued on Wednesday a communiqué calling on workers from Al-Sadat City to express their solidarity.

The workers of many factories of the city previously participated in a protest in solidarity with Mega Textile workers.

Shaaban says that seven companies in the city are actually on strike and will support Mega Textile workers in case of any attack.

‘The 1,200 workers of Alkan Textile Company (Almatex), in a sit-in, are just neighbouring Mega Textile and will help them. Ahram Textile and Nile Textile are also in solidarity with them,’ he assured.

The workers of the seven companies intend to protest in front of the Egypt Trade Union Federation in Cairo on Sunday.

‘The Turkish management of the company is using illegitimate ways to stand against its workers.

‘They think that being a private company allows them to fire any worker, including union members.

According to the Egyptian law, it is not possible to fire union members,’ says Shaaban, adding that the management is trying to escape fixed meetings with Ministry of Manpower officials in order not to sign an agreement giving the workers their rights.

‘They didn’t respect previous agreements and recently they missed three fixed appointments; the last was Tuesday.’

Mega Textile protests started long before the January 25 Revolution, gaining momentum after Mubarak’s ousting.

The 800 young workers have held nearly 10 strikes and sit-ins in less than five years, the age of the company. Many were fired, but the remaining workers didn’t succumb.