Crisis of Labor Unions in Egypt: Towards a Vision to Rectify the Relationship between the State and Workers

EPC | 01 Jan 2015

Egyptian policy-makers face a complicated and a multilateral problem, which has to do with the relationship between the state and the labor force. This problem also involves other parties such as the labor unions, both official and independent, and employers and their various organizations, such as chambers of industry and commerce.

Union Organizations in Egypt:

The case of unions and the labor movement in Egypt and their relationship with the state has been one of the most sensitive issues since the early 1990s for the following reasons:

  1. Cairo’s adoption of the economic reform and structural adjustment programs, of which selling the public sector was one of its basic elements, or the so-called privatization,
  2. The trilateral crisis between the labor force, the labor union and the state, took a dangerous turn since 2006 when widespread labor protests started, kept intensifying until Jan. 25, 2011 and continued until today, calling for a number of economic demands,
  3. The economic crises in Egypt since 2011,
  4. Political instability and lack of security, which led to the closure of a large number of private factories, which in turn led to the deterioration of conditions of the labor movement,
  5. Widespread labor resentment, not only among workers in the public sector, but the private sector as well, even the unregulated sector,
  6. Failure of the official labor unions in the country (represented by the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, its 23 unions and the 2000 union committees) to play its natural role and mediate between the labor force and employers,
  7. The rise of private unions in Egypt: this situation is a growing problem that leads to more political and economic instability if it remains unsolved.


Potential Risks of the Current Situation:

1.Protests among the labor movement in Egypt in several sectors, both private and public, although the textiles sector is the most disgruntled due to the deteriorating conditions among its workers in recent years,

2.The presence of an official union represented by the Egyptian Trade Union Federation and its affiliates, which is based on monopoly of union representation according to the Trade Unions Law No. 35 of 1976 and its amendments,

3.The tense situation between the Egyptian government and the International Labor Organization (ILO) due to the latter’s accusations to Cairo of violating the standards of freedom of unions undertaken by Egypt,

4.The latent restrictions in the Labor Law and Union’s Law that need radical amendments in line with the terms of the 2014 constitution, the ILO standards and the creation of  an investment-friendly environment,

5.The need to provide a certain level of political and social stability calls for appeasing workers and redefine the relationship among all parties of the production process in a satisfactory way to all, thus boosting productivity rates.

Image Source: Reuters Pictures

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