Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Labor rights in Egypt

A notice comes from the Land Center for Human Rights issued a reminder that the government continues to violate international labor agreements and threaten the right of Egyptian workers to freely associate in a union of their choice.

The center complains that the government-approved labor union, which has minority support among workers has been unfairly aided in the ongoing labor syndicate elections because opposition candidates were prevented from running for office by the government.

"[Opposition candidates were refused] the labor syndicate membership certificates, which are required for the nomination process, and those who were able to fulfill all their papers were also excluded, as their names were not enrolled among the candidates, which made them file complaints, but these complaints were denied by the Ministry of Manpower. This has led to the end of the first stage with the winning of many candidates uncontested. This will also help these winners in the second stage being held today," according to the center's statement.

The center's statement goes on to say that some workers protested the situation with a peaceful sit-in but were quickly arrested by security officials. There were significant voting irregularities during the election, with some polls closing early, and the security officials maintained a significant and oppressive positioning during voting.

To read the full statement, go to the center's website, here.

This is a long-standing concern. It is a labor problem, but it's part of the larger effort by the government to muzzle civil society. This is similar to the problems faced by opposition groups in professional associations, such as the bar and doctors and engineers association, by opposition journalists, human rights defenders, members of minority religious groups, academics and even gays. Anything not under the government's control is seen as a threat and a target for action.

The government uses it's powers under laws governing NGOs and the elections of professional associations to suppress criticisms from these groups, which are vital to a healthy civil society. Amnesty encourages the government to remember it's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 22 states: "(1.) Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.


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