Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers, with the exception of the military and police, to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively; however, it places several restrictions on these rights. For example, a requirement, considered excessive by the ILO, restricts trade union rights by requiring unions to represent 51 percent of the workers in an enterprise in order to bargain collectively. In addition the law prohibits strikes until mandatory mediation requirements have been met. Formal requirements for a strike to be legal also include the support of an absolute majority of all company workers for the strike, written notification to the Ministry of Labor, and a 10-day waiting period following notification before the strike can proceed. Government workers and essential public service personnel may not strike. The government considers teachers as essential, as are public service workers in communications, water supply, energy supply, hospitals, and pharmacies.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and forbids employers from dismissing an employee for participating in union activities, including being on a committee seeking to form a union. Although the Ministry of Labor must register unions for the unions to be legal, the law provides for automatic recognition of a union if the ministry does not act on an application within 30 days. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference. Public-sector workers may form associations registered through the Office of Public Administration. The law requires that 40 percent of employees of a government entity agree to join for the association to be formed. According to the Ministry of Labor, the law applies to all workers, including foreign workers, those working as domestic workers, workers without legal documentation, and workers in the free-trade zones (FTZs).
The government did not effectively enforce laws related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Enforcement and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The process for addressing labor violations through criminal courts can take years, leaving workers with limited protection in the meantime. There were reports of intimidation, threats, and blackmail by employers to prevent union activity. Some unions required members to provide identity documents to participate in the union despite the fact that the labor code protects all workers regardless of their legal status.
Labor NGOs reported companies resisted collective negotiating practices and union activities. Companies reportedly fired workers for union activity and blacklisted trade unionists, among other antiunion practices. Workers reported they believed they had to sign documents pledging to abstain from participating in union activities. Companies also created and supported “yellow” or company-backed unions to counter free and democratic unions. Formal strikes occurred but were not common.
Some companies used short-term contracts and subcontracting, which made union organizing and collective bargaining more difficult. Few companies had collective bargaining pacts, partly because companies created obstacles to union formation and could afford to go through lengthy judicial processes that independent unions could not afford.
Unions in the FTZs, which are subject to the same labor laws as all other workers, reported that their members hesitated to discuss union activity at work due to fear of losing their jobs. Unions accused some FTZ companies of dismissing workers who attempted to organize unions.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prescribes imprisonment and fines for persons convicted of engaging in forced labor. Such penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter violations.
The government reported it received no forced labor complaints during the year but there were reports of forced labor of adults and children in construction, agriculture, and services.
The law applies equally to exploitation of migrant workers, but Haitian workers’ lack of documentation and uncertain legal status in the country made them more vulnerable to forced labor. NGOs reported many irregular Haitian laborers and citizens of Haitian descent did not exercise their rights due to fear of being fired or deported.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.
The law prohibits employment of children younger than age 14 and places restrictions on the employment of children younger than age 16, limiting their working hours to six hours per day. For persons younger than age 18, the law limits night work and prohibits employment in dangerous work such as work involving hazardous substances, heavy or dangerous machinery, and carrying heavy loads. The law provides penalties for child labor violations, including fines and prison sentences. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
The Ministry of Labor, in coordination with the National Council for Children and Adolescents, the National Police, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Specialized Corps for Tourist Safety Local Vigilance Committees, is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, and they did effectively enforce the law. The government has established mechanisms to coordinate its efforts on child labor.
The porous border with Haiti allowed some Haitian children to be trafficked into the country, where they were forced into commercial sexual exploitation or forced to work in agriculture, often alongside their parents, domestic work, street vending, or begging (see also section 6).
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
The constitution creates a right of equality and nondiscrimination, regardless of sex, skin color, age, disability, nationality, family ties, language, religion, political opinion or philosophy, and social or personal condition. The law prohibits discrimination, exclusion, or preference in employment, but there is no law against discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The government did not effectively enforce the law against discrimination in employment. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to HIV/AIDS-positive persons; and against persons with disabilities, persons of darker skin color, those of Haitian nationality, and women (see section 6). In March the IACHR annual report noted with concern the absence of concrete policies targeting the reduction of discrimination in the workplace.
The law provides for a minimum wage that varies depending on the size of the enterprise and type of labor. As of October the minimum wage for all sectors, except sugar cane harvesters, was above the official poverty line; however, a study by the Juan Bosch Foundation found that only one-half of the minimum wage rates were high enough for a worker to afford the minimum family budget. The government estimated 23 percent of the population was living in poverty.
The law establishes a standard workweek of 44 hours, not to exceed eight hours per day on weekdays, and four hours on Saturdays before noon. Agricultural workers are exempt from this limit, however, and may be required to work up to 10 hours each workday without premium compensation. The law stipulates all workers are entitled to 36 hours of uninterrupted rest each week. Although the law provides for paid annual holidays and premium pay for overtime, enforcement was ineffective. The law prohibits excessive or compulsory overtime and states that employees may work a maximum of 80 hours of overtime over the course of three months.
The labor code covers different sectors separately. For example, the section covering domestic workers establishes lower standards for hours of work, rest, annual leave, sick leave, and remuneration, and it does not provide for notice or severance payments. Domestic workers are entitled to two weeks’ paid vacation after one year of continuous work as well as a Christmas bonus equal to one month’s wage. The labor code also covers workers in the FTZs, but they are not entitled to bonus payments.
The law applies to both the formal and informal sectors, but it was seldom enforced in the informal sector. Workers in the informal economy faced more precarious working conditions than formal workers.
The Ministry of Labor sets workplace safety and health regulations that are appropriate for the main industries. By regulation employers are obligated to provide for the safety and health of employees in all aspects related to the job. By law employees may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but they may face less severe reprisal.
Authorities conducted inspections but did not adequately enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and workplace health and safety standards. Penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations. The Public Ministry is responsible for pursuing and applying penalties for labor violations uncovered by labor inspectors; it infrequently applied penalties in practice. During the year the Ministry of Labor increased its inspector workforce by 30 percent from 2018, but the number of labor inspectors remained insufficient.
Mandatory overtime was a common practice in factories, enforced through loss of pay or employment for those who refused. The Dominican Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers reported that some companies in the textile industry set up “four-by-four” work schedules, under which employees worked 12-hour shifts for four days. In a few cases employees working the four-by-four schedules were not paid overtime for hours worked in excess of maximum work hours allowed under the law.
Conditions for agricultural workers were poor. Many workers worked long hours, often 12 hours per day and seven days per week, and suffered from hazardous working conditions, including exposure to pesticides, long periods in the sun, limited access to potable water, and sharp and heavy tools. Some workers reported they were not paid the legally mandated minimum wage.
Industrial accidents caused injury and death to workers, but information on the number of accidents was unavailable.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, with significant restrictions. The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law prescribes union elections every four years and imposes a strict hierarchy for union formation consisting of a company-level trade union committee, a profession, or industry-level general union, and a national-level union. In June the International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee on the Application of Standards discussed the country’s failure to meet the terms of Convention 87 concerning the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize. Specifically, the committee considered the minimum threshold of workers required to form an enterprise union appeared to restrict workers’ freedom of association, since 90 percent of all economic activity in the country is conducted in small and medium enterprises with fewer than 50 employees. The committee also noted that the high threshold requirements for general unions and confederations guaranteed the government-sponsored confederation a de facto monopoly.
In July parliament amended the 2017 trade unions law. The amendments reduced the minimum number of workers required to form a trade union committee from 150 to 50, the number of trade union committees required to form a general union from 15 to 10, and the number of workers required to form a general union from 20,000 to 15,000. The new amendments also decreased the number of unions necessary to establish a trade union federation from 10 to seven and the number of workers in a trade union federation from 200,000 to 150,000. Furthermore, the amendments replaced prison penalties for violations of labor laws with financial penalties.
While the law provides for collective bargaining, it imposes significant restrictions. For example, the government sets wages and benefits for all public-sector employees. The law does not provide for enterprise-level collective bargaining in the private sector and requires centralized tripartite negotiations that include workers, represented by a union affiliated with the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), business owners, and the Ministry of Manpower overseeing and monitoring negotiations and agreements.
The constitution provides for the right to “peaceful” strikes. The Unified Labor Law permits peaceful strikes as well, but it imposes significant restrictions, including prior approval by a general trade union affiliated with ETUF. In May workers at the Mahala Egypt Spinning and Weaving Company went on strike over unpaid salaries and bonuses, which they ended when the company’s administration promised to pay the delayed wages.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Labor laws do not cover some categories of workers, including agricultural and domestic workers, and other sectors of the informal economy.
The Ministry of Manpower and affiliated directorates did not allow trade unions to adopt any bylaws other than those provided in the law. This position, according to local workers’ rights organizations, was contrary to the law, which states that unions can use the statutory bylaws as guidance to develop their own.
Government enforcement of applicable laws was inconsistent. The government also occasionally arrested striking workers and rarely reversed arbitrary dismissals. The government seldom followed the requirement for tripartite negotiations in collective disputes, leaving workers to negotiate directly with employers, typically after resorting to a strike.
Independent unions continued to face pressure to dissolve. In some cases the Ministry of Manpower delayed responding to unions’ applications for legal status, leaving many in legal limbo. In other instances the Ministry of Manpower refused to legalize proposed unions if an ETUF-affiliated counterpart existed. Independent labor activists claimed that the government placed obstacles on independent unions’ ability to participate in 2018 union elections by delaying or rejecting union registration.
Authorities arrested several labor organizers and subjected others to legal sanctions following the dispersal of a labor strike.
Workers sometimes staged sit-ins on government and private property, often without obtaining the necessary permits. Rights groups claimed authorities sometimes arrested those seeking to obtain protest permits. In January the engineers and workers in al-Nasr Contracting Company organized a strike at the New Administrative Capital to demand their late salaries. The security services reportedly arrested seven workers, including trade unionist Talal Atef. In April Sharabiya Appellant Misdemeanor Court sentenced the seven workers to 30 days in prison on charges of participating in an illegal gathering and refusing to perform their duties at work in order to harm the company. In March the Court of Cassation upheld a court ruling sentencing 27 police officers in South Sinai to three years in prison and cancelled a LE 6,000 fine over charges of protesting and going on strike. The incident dates back to January when 50 police officers in different sectors of South Sinai protested the Interior Ministry’s decision to reduce vacation days to 10 days a month instead of 15 days.
On September 16, security personnel in plain clothes arrested 19 workers who participated in a sit-in to demand payment of annual salary increases for the past two years and unpaid bonuses in a factory in Ismailia. The sit-in began on September 14 in front of the General Investment Authority and blocked the Cairo-Ismaili road. The prosecutor released 13 of the workers the same day without charges and detained six of them, including two women, for 15 days pending formal charges. On September 22, an Ismailia court released them on bail.
On October 7, thousands of Universal Company for Engineering Industries workers protested delayed salaries of three months and other unpaid benefits. Media reported that the protest continued for eight days and included 5,000 workers from different departments of the company.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution states no work may be compulsory except by virtue of a law. The government did not effectively enforce the prohibition but conducted awareness raising activities such as distributing antitrafficking informational booklets to migrant laborers, and the NCW conducted a media campaign about the treatment of domestic workers, a population vulnerable to trafficking, and worked with NGOs to provide some assistance to victims of human trafficking, including forced labor. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for regular employment at age 15 and at age 13 for seasonal employment. The constitution defines a child as anyone younger than 18. A Ministry of Manpower decree bars children younger than 18 from 44 specific hazardous occupations, while the law prohibits employment of children younger than 18 from work that “puts the health, safety, or morals of the child into danger.” Provincial governors, with the approval of the minister of education, may authorize seasonal work (often agricultural) for children age 13 and older, provided duties are not hazardous and do not interfere with schooling. The labor code and law limit children’s work hours and mandate breaks.
Overall, authorities did not enforce child labor laws effectively. The Ministry of Manpower, in coordination with the NCCM and the Interior Ministry, enforced child labor laws in state-owned enterprises and private sector establishments through inspections and supervision of factory management. Labor inspectors generally operated without adequate training on child labor issues, although the Ministry of Manpower offered some child labor-specific training. The government did not inspect noncommercial farms for child labor, and there were very limited monitoring and enforcement mechanisms for children in domestic service. When authorities imposed penalties for violations, fines were insufficient to deter violations.
Although the government often did not effectively enforce relevant laws, authorities implemented a number of social, educational, and poverty reduction programs to reduce children’s vulnerability to exploitive labor. The NCCM, working with the Ministries of Education and Social Solidarity, sought to provide working children with social security safeguards and to reduce school dropout rates by providing families with alternative sources of income.
Child labor occurred, although estimates on the number of child laborers varied. According to the 2012 joint ILO and Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics child labor survey, of the 1.8 million children working, 1.6 million were engaged in child labor, primarily in the agricultural sector in rural areas but also in domestic work and factories in urban areas, often under hazardous conditions. Children also worked in light industry, the aluminum industry, construction sites, brick production, and service businesses such as auto repair. According to government, NGO, and media reports, the number of street children in Cairo continued to increase in the face of deteriorating economic conditions. Such children were at greater risk of sexual exploitation or forced begging. In some cases employers abused or overworked children. Children also worked in the production of limestone.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
The constitution states all citizens “are equal in rights, freedoms, and general duties without discrimination based on religion, belief, gender, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason.” It does not specify age, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. In April the Ministry of Justice started its first training course for 22 employees working at the state’s real estate departments in Giza and Cairo to use sign language to help persons with disabilities fill out documents. The training comes as part of a cooperation protocol signed in January between the Justice Ministry and the newly established NCPD. While the law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment, the government did not effectively enforce prohibitions against such discrimination. Discrimination also occurred against women and migrant workers (see sections 2.d. and 6), as well as workers based on their political views.
An employee facing discrimination can file a report with the local government labor office. If the employee and the employer are unable to reach an amicable settlement, they can file their claim in administrative court, which may order the employer to redress the complaint or to pay damages or legal fees. According to local rights groups, implementation of the law was inadequate. Additionally, the lengthy and expensive litigation process could deter employees from filing claims.
Local rights groups reported several cases of employers dismissing workers or depriving them from work for expressing antigovernment opinions. In March the actors’ professional syndicate revoked the memberships of well-known actors Khaled Abul Naga and Amr Waked, describing their actions as amounting to “high treason” against the homeland and the Egyptian people. The syndicate’s decision came after the two actors participated in a congressional briefing in Washington regarding the human rights situation in Egypt.
In June the Ministry of Religious Endowments warned it would terminate the employment of imams in Sharqiyah Governorate who violated the ministry’s instructions not to hold funeral prayers for the late president Morsi, who died on June 17.
Challenges to improving working conditions in both the private sector and informal sector include uneven application or lack of regulations and restrictions on engaging in peaceful protests as a means of negotiating resolutions to workplace disparities. For example, there is no national minimum wage in the private sector, but the government sets a monthly minimum wage for government employees and public-sector workers, which is above the poverty line. According to labor rights organizations, the government implemented the minimum wage for public-sector workers but applied it only to direct government employees and included benefits and bonuses in calculating total salaries. For government employees and public business-sector workers, the government also set a maximum wage limit per month. The law does not require equal pay for equal work.
The law stipulates a maximum 48-hour workweek for the public and private sectors and provides for premium pay for overtime and work on rest days and national holidays. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. The government sets worker health and safety standards, for example, prohibiting employers from maintaining hazardous working conditions. The law excludes agricultural, fisheries, and domestic workers from regulations concerning wages, hours, and working conditions.
The Ministry of Manpower is responsible for enforcing labor laws and standards for working conditions. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The ministry did not attempt to apply labor standards to the informal sector. Penalties, especially as they were often unenforced, were not sufficient to deter violations.
By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to employment, although authorities did not reliably enforce this right. In March at least 10 workers were killed and 15 more were injured in an explosion at a military-owned phosphates and fertilizer production facility in Ain Sokhna, a port city east of Cairo. Workers blamed the factory’s administration for failing to comply with the health and safety measures at the site. In May, three workers were killed when a fire broke out in a plastic factory in Sadat city in Menofia Governorate.
According to media reports, laborers in some remote areas worked in extremely dangerous environments. In North Sinai, workers’ movements were restricted by local government-established curfews and checkpoints run by both the military and non-state armed groups. In June terrorists killed four civilian workers who were building a fence around the El Arish airport.
The government provided services, such as free health care, to all citizens, but the quality of services was often poor. Other benefits, such as social insurance, were available only to employees in the formal sector.
Many persons throughout the country faced poor working conditions, especially in the informal economy, which employed up to 40 percent of workers, according to some estimates. Domestic workers, agricultural workers, workers in rock quarries, and other parts of the informal sector were most likely to face hazardous or exploitive conditions. There were reports of employer abuse of citizen and undocumented foreign workers, especially domestic workers. Little information was available on workplace fatalities and accidents.