Egypt’s second independent trade union is born to fervent acclaim

In a historic move on Wednesday evening, representatives of Egypt's technical workers formally gave birth to the country's second independent trade union to be established since 1957. More than 1000 technical workers received the news with fervent cheers and chants at Cairo's Journalists' Syndicate.

The Egyptian Health Technologists Syndicate (EHTS) attained this coveted status after garnering 13,000 signatures from medical institutions employees nationwide.

There are an estimated 205,000 such technical workers nationwide who formerly had no union affiliation. Thousands of these workers had repeatedly petitioned the Ministry of Manpower and Ministry of Health for the establishment of trade union committees since 2007.

Worker-delegates submitted the signatures for notarization to the Ministry of Manpower and the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF). Within a period of 30 days, the ministry and federation may press their reservations regarding the establishment of this independent entity. But the newborn union seems determined to stay the course.

President of the EHTS, Ahmed al-Sayyed, announced the soft-opening of the union–where a 28-point organizational bylaw memorandum was distributed.

Also in attendance was Kamal Abu Eita, president of the Real Estate Tax Authority (RETA) Employees Union–the first independent union to split off from the state-controlled trade union structure since the mid-20th Century. This independent union has been subjected to ETUF reprimanding and obstructions, on the basis that the body is "weakening the unity of the Egypt's union movement."

Abu Eita and members of the RETA Union, along with labor activists, praised the struggle of the health technicians to establish EHTS as an independent entity. The RETA Union was formally established in April 2009 after collecting and submitting to authorities the signatures of 15,000 real estate tax employees.

Local union committees in each governorate are yet to be elected, and their offices and administrative functions are still being established by local general assemblies. According to their bylaws, the new union EHTS headquarters are to be established "within Greater Cairo."

"We urgently need this union because our rights have been disregarded for far too long, and are wages are unrealistically low," said Ayman Lotfy, a young health technician from Zagazig in the Nile Delta's Sharqiya Governorate.

"I've been employed as a laboratory technician in governmental medical institutions for three years now," Lotfy added. "There are no prospects for promotions, and I only make LE270 per month (approximately US$50.) How am I supposed to live on that sort of money, let alone get married or raise a family?"

Ali Eid, another young technician from Gharbiya Governorate said "I work as an x-ray technician in a public hospital, and we don't have the same rights or benefits as nurses, let alone doctors' who are members of the Physicians' Syndicate. This is why we insist upon having our own union to protect our interests."

Eid believes that most health technicians will join EHTS when its establishment gains greater recognition and it begins to launch efforts to defends the rights of its members.

"We have come here from across the country to launch this union of ours," said Mohamed Atef, a middle-aged technician from Aswan. "From Aswan in the south to Alexandria in the north we all need an independent union because the government's Association of Health Technicians, which was supposed to be representing us, is weak, unrepresentative and unresponsive."

Beyond the structure of the state-controlled ETUF in the field of professional syndicates (or white-collar unions), the independent Teachers' Syndicate was established in July of this year. It split off from the state-sanctioned Teachers' Syndicate–who boasts branches across the country–but only claims the membership of some 5000 workers from an estimated total of one million nationwide.

While serving as a pioneering experiment in the field of professional syndicates, the influence of this independent Teachers' Syndicate among Egyptian teachers, however, is limited. Supporters who came out in droves on Wednesday for the EHTS commemorative address undoubtedly hope the new trade union's efforts will be less ineffectual. 

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