May 5, 2009—In a historic move for the Egyptian labor movement, the 27,000-member Real Estate Tax Authority Union will become Egypt’s first independent union, reports the Center for Trade Union and Worker Services, a Solidarity Center partner.
On April 21, 2009, more than 300 representatives of RETA's General Assembly gathered at the Ministry of Manpower in Cairo to submit their application for the first independent union in Egypt. After a five-hour protest followed by intense negotiations, the Minister of the Labor Force agreed to accept the petition, a precedent-setting move that establishes Egypt’s first independent union.
The new union also has affiliated with Public Services International, the Global Union that represents public sector workers worldwide. PSI's 620 affiliated unions represent 20 million members in 160 countries.
RETA employees voted to form a union in December 2008 following a nationwide strike and a 12-day sit-in by 10,000 workers in front of the prime minister’s office in Cairo, where they demanded equality for their brothers and sisters in outlying governorates. By December 13, they had collected more than 15,000 signatures.
Although the government agreed to negotiate with the workers, it retaliated against union organizers, harassing and interrogating those who had collected signatures, according to a December 2008 appeal for solidarity from CTUWS on the anniversary of RETA’s conception. In January 2009, RETA held its first constituent conference, drawing more than 3,000 participants. Government approval of the application is the final step.
The new union aims to express RETA employees’ interests, embody their demands, and organize advocacy and mobilization activities to improve their labor conditions. A related objective is to democratize the labor movement in Egypt by stimulating and encouraging member participation and by building and developing RETA’s democratic mechanisms and structures.
CTUWS called on international unions and labor organizations to support RETA employees’ effort to establish their independent union, “a basic granted right as stated in international treaties ratified by the Egyptian government.”
Learn more about the Solidarity Center's work with the CTUWS