Unions fight for living wages

Living wages are a critical issue in Egypt, particularly in the garment sector where in one factory workers have not received wages for 7 months An IndustriALL workshop held on September 7-8 in Cairo was attended by representatives from affiliates and potential affiliates of the newly formed Egyptian independent unions in IndustriALL jurisdictions.

Demands to raise the minimum wage have given rise to dozens of strikes and industrial actions across Egypt over recent years. During a 2006 strike, workers at the Mahalla textile factory demanded an increase to the minimum wage to1,200 LE ($166). In 2010 a court ruling in Egypt raised the minimum wage to 1,200 LE which was not implemented by the government. 

Following workers struggles and several industrial actions, this year the Egyptian cabinet finally adopted the 1,200 LE as the new minimum wage for the governmental sector. However, for trade unions and workers activists the government decision comes too late. They are demanding a higher minimum wage which takes account of price increases and increased living costs. Further, the government decision excludes millions of Egyptian workers from the new minimum wages, including those employed in the private sector.

Collective bargaining strength to achieve higher wages

A representative from the neighbouring Tunisian unions attended the workshop and described how their emphasis on improving rights for women workers has helped mobilise women workers in support of wage demands. The Tunisian focus is on collective bargaining to deliver wage outcomes rather than waiting for the government or the judiciary to raise wages.

At the workshop, the Egyptian unions decided to create a national trade union living wage coordinating committee to elaborate their position and adopt a national campaign on the issue. The meeting concluded that, as in Tunisia, developing collective bargaining strength and capacity at industry level is the best strategy for achieving higher wages.

This will require creating the necessary structures for bargaining, including identifying employer counterparts to bargain with – a key issue to be raised in the context of current proposed amendments to the labour law. Particularly in occupations dominated by women, efforts will be made to integrate women into collective bargaining and to promote equal pay and the value of women’s work. The unions will also continue to fight for higher minimum wages through the government process.





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