Kamal Abu Eita leads a chant at a union demonstrators during the 2011 revolution. Photo Hossam el-Hamalawy
Egypt: trade unionist becomes Minister of Labour
The President of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU), Kamal Abu Eita, has been appointed as Minister for Manpower and Immigration, and has resigned his position as union president. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has welcomed his appointment, along with that of another reformer, Ahmad El-Borei, as Minister of Solidarity and Social Protection – a key post for workers in Egypt, given the widespread poverty and inequality which has, if anything, worsened since the overthrow of the Mubarak regime, despite being a key cause of the revolution. EFITU has been a driving force in the campaign for trade union rights and social justice in the country, as one of two independent trade union confederations established as the Mubarak regime was overthrown.
Abu Eita’s top priorities have been reported as issuing a trade union freedoms law; increasing the minimum wage and lowering the maximum wage; raising pension payments; re-opening closed factories; re-hiring dismissed workers and implementing the law governing the recruitment of the disabled in governmental institutions.
ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said:
“On top of the legacy of corruption and mismanagement by the Mubarak regime, the economic and social situation worsened dramatically under the Muslim Brotherhood, triggering the massive protests which resulted in the army’s intervention. Respect for fundamental workers’ rights must be a cornerstone of the country’s transition to a genuine and inclusive democracy.”
Unions are still calling for a return to democracy as soon as possible in Egypt, although as Sean Bamford pointed out (writing from Tunis where the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood was greeted by trade unionists regardless of the implications for democracy) unions have not been impressed with the first ever elected government in Egypt.
Of course, it’s worth noting that trade union leaders have in the past moved into this Ministerial office. Under the Mubarak regime, the state-controlled trade union movement’s ILO governing body representative tried to fulfil both roles at once, until the ITUC made it clear this was unacceptable. Ironically, that trade union federation, ETUF, which limps on in the new Egypt, and probably still contains genuine workers’ organisations in some workplaces, has protested vociferously at Abu Eita’s new job!