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Labour rights boost for Egypt

Trade Unions
Kamal Abu Eita Portrait

Kamal Abu Eita © PSI

This is an edited version of an article posted on Public Services International’s website.

Almost two weeks after tens of millions of Egyptians took to the streets in a ‘second wave of revolution’ against the Morsi government, and the military took control of Egypt, a new cabinet has been sworn in. Kamal Abu Eita, who was leader of the independent Real Estate and Tax Authority Employees’ Union (RETA) in Egypt and president of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions  (EFITU), has been named as Minister of Manpower in the new Egyptian government. Abu Eita also served as an MP in the previous democratically elected parliament.

The 2011 revolution brought greater awareness of basic labour rights in Egypt, but Morsi’s government targeted union organizers and activists through repressive laws and violent actions. Workers will be looking to Abu Eita to initiate new trade union laws that uphold trade union rights, especially freedom of association and the right to strike.

For 50 years, all trade unions in Egypt were controlled by the state. However, RETA refused to submit to regime control. It led ground-breaking strikes and submitted its registration as an independent union in April 2009, seeking affiliation to the global union federation Public Services International (PSI) in 2010.

Speaking to a PSI trade union rights forum in Tunisia earlier this year, Abu Eita emphasized that the independent unions are the main venue for achieving the just goals of the revolution. ‘We consider that workers’ fundamental right to freedom of association is also linked to freedom of women and all other members of society. We must all struggle together for a new type of globalization built on a foundation of human rights.’

Commenting on the latest wave of popular uprising, PSI General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli said, ‘Good governance, rule of law and respect for human rights are crucial for equitable social and economic development. Workers’ rights must be upheld so the delivery of vital public services can be assured for the benefit of all. Building a healthy and more open society also requires the rising violence against women to be stopped, and that strong measures to ensure women’s participation in all levels of politics and the community are put into effect.’

The new cabinet of more than 30 ministers includes three Christians but does not include any members of Islamist parties. Women lead three ministries, including the powerful information and health ministries. The justice portfolio has been renamed as the transitional justice and national reconciliation ministry.

The Muslim Brotherhood has denounced the new cabinet as ‘illegitimate’ and says it won’t recognize it. The military says the interim cabinet will serve for just six months until parliamentary and presidential elections are held.

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