It took the Egyptian government three months and a law passed during the absence of the parliament to address the reformation of the state bureaucracy, which employs 8 million persons.
The state’s bureaucratic entities have long been an issue in Egypt as most of the public employees, who actually work five hours per day, were appointed decades ago when work was performed through analogue media. In that time period, it could take an Egyptian citizen two weeks to obtain travel permission, even if he or she already held a foreign visa.
Public services in Egypt are divided and distributed between government entities, mandating that citizens must receive official approval from a specific unit or employee, rather than the government office closest to their place of residence.
Recently, the government decided to automate certain services, such as the renewal or replacement of national identification cards, a measure meant to reduce processing time by 11 days.
Despite the introductive of automated services, the government found itself paying more than EGP 200bn in wages for public employees.
The former government, headed by then-prime minister Ibrahim Mehleb, decided to reform the administrative system of the state in 2015, issuing the Civil Service Law.
The Egyptian state made several attempts to portray an image of economic reform in the country to lure investments in the past year. Ahead of the first Egypt Economic Development Conference last March, the government issued two pivotal laws in the economic scene: the Investment Law and the Civil Service Law.
The Civil Service Law presents a new system for salaries and stipulates that incentives should be approved by the Prime Minister as a fixed percentage of the total salary every year, according to the different positions.
The law also stipulates that fixed salaries contribute 80% of the employee’s income, while bonuses are awarded according to the employee’s performance, rather than seniority. Prior to the law, 80% of public employees’ wage was provided by bonuses while 20% constituted a fixed salary.
Annual bonuses were also cut from 10% to 5%. State-owned companies and economic entities are not subject to the law.
Minister of Planning Ashraf El-Araby announced the details of the law. Before the law was to be implemented at the beginning of the current fiscal year, El-Araby announced meetings with workers and ‘stakeholders’ to discuss it.
However, the minister’s preventative measures did not assuage the fears of employees, who were worried that the law would affect their pensions.
Despite official calls by the government and the majority of parliament to approve the law before it was voted upon, the parliament rejected the decree last week with a majority of 332 votes out of 468 votes.
The rejection of the law was a surprise as the assembly is believed to be pro-government. A few days later, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi criticised the MP’s decision in a speech, saying that its aim was to reform the public sector.
Civil Service Law criticised for allegedly cutting salaries and employees
Hoda Kamel, Head of the Labour Programme of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) explained that the Civil Service Law allows direct superiors to evaluate the performance of employees “which creates room for corruption and conflict of interest”.
Article 27 of the law states that if two consecutive annual reports show that a worker is “inefficient”, he or she is to be suspended from work while keeping his or her “right to a pension”.
Article 28 adds that administrative workers are also to be suspended, while maintaining their pension, if their work is assessed as moderate or below moderate.
“The government wants to reduce wages not reform the sector,” Kamel said.
Government expenditure on incentives and wages increased from EGP 83bn per year during the fiscal year (FY) 2009/2010 to EGP 218bn in the new FY 2015/2016 budget, according to the Ministry of Finance.
Impediments in the introduction of the law
Ziad Bahaa Al-Din, the former deputy prime minister in the first government that followed the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, said the legislative authority given to the president during the absence of the parliament should have been used in “necessary” cases.
Thus, according to Bahaa Al-Din, Al-Sisi did not have the authority to undertake bureaucratic reform by issued the Civil Service Law.
Executive regulations that provide a framework for the enforcement of the law and detail the procedures governing civil servants’ wages prepared by the government, without being given to parliament for approval, according to Bahaa Al-Din.
Instead of considering the parliamentary rejection of the law as a chance to reform it, the government “threatened people by saying that it would destroy the economic situation”, Bahaa Al-Din said .
Before the parliament’s rejection, the law faced several hurdles during the six-month implementation period.
Representatives of general and independent trade unions, along with civil society organisations, have repeatedly said that the law was issued without communal dialogue.
The Public Transport Authority found that their July salary was paid to them under the law, despite Minister of Planning Ashraf El-Araby stating in press statements that this pay period would not fall under the law’s jurisdiction.
Employees criticised the annual raise of 5% of the salary as they said the annual inflation increases by 10%.
After the rejection
The Civil Service Law was the only decree rejected by the parliament, out of more than 300 decrees reviewed last week.
Kamel said the move of the parliament “is most likely to maintain calmness on the streets during the anniversary of 25 January Revolution.”
Kamel expected the law to be reissued with more punitive amendments, as she said that the communal dialogue that would amend the law will encompass “unrepresentative” trade unions.
Deputy Chairman of the Economic Committee of the Free Egyptians Party Mohamed Farid has called for a new law to organise the administrative entities of the state.
The party, which has 65% of the seats in parliament, was a supporter of ratifying the law; however, it stated its intention to amend the law after its ratification.
During a press conference last week, head of the Free Egyptians Party, Essam Khalil, said the Civil Service Law has “some disadvantages but it can’t be fully rejected. If the parliament rejected the law, what would be the guarantee to reform the public sector?”
The government argued that the Civil Service Law is crucial to maintaining approved loans issued by the World Bank, El-Araby said last week.
Kamel suggested that establishment of additional branches of units in new locations to reorganise the workflow would serve as an alternative to the current reform measures.
Cabinet Spokesperson Hossam El-Kawish announced earlier this week that the government will resubmit the Civil Service Law to the parliament after amending the articles which the latter rejected.
Another law expected to restrict workers
The Labour Law, still being prepared by the government, is another law will further immiserate and curtail the rights of workers.
The drafted bill will supplant the 12/2003 Labour Law and states that the collection of money or donations, distributing leaflets, collecting signatures and organising meetings are prohibited without the consent of an employer.
A campaign titled “Towards a Fair Labour Law”, organised by the ECESR, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), and other rights organisations, has been launched to criticise the law.
The campaign said the draft law sets new duties for workers and increases the number of punishable activities that may lead to their dismissal without financial compensation. The campaign stressed that the ratified constitution prohibits arbitrary dismissal.
According to the campaign, the new draft law discriminates between workers in the private and public sector in terms of holidays, where the former, which represents two thirds of the workforce, receive fewer holidays.
Article 194 in the bill bans sit-ins within the workplace that lead to a full or partial halt in work, according to the campaign. Thus, the campaign has set certain procedures for trade union organisations and labour representatives to follow before embarking on a sit-in or a strike.
The bill considers the basic salary to be the value stated in the contract plus bonuses; the value, however, excludes commissions, grants and allowances such that the workers’ entitlements once they vacate their position are determined based on their fixed salary.