Statement by the Director-General of the ILO Juan Somavia on the situation in Egypt


The world has followed with great respect the massive and courageous expressions of the will of the people of Egypt during the events of recent days. In the difficult times ahead it will be of critical importance that the government and all other actors commit to peaceful action to open the way to a new era of social justice in Egypt’s proud history. It is a matter for sorrow and deep regret that the loss of human lives has been so high. It must not rise any higher.

I join with the Secretary-General of the United Nations in insisting that the leaders of Egypt, “listen attentively and sincerely to the voices of the people”, and on “their responsibility, first of all, to provide decent jobs and good opportunities to maintain a decent living.”

For many years, the ILO has been pointing to the gravity of the decent work deficit in Egypt and a number of other countries in the region, where unemployment, underemployment and informal work have remained among the highest in the world. The failure to address this situation effectively, with all of its consequences for poverty and unbalanced development, together with limitations on basic freedoms, has triggered this historic outpouring of popular demands.

Of specific and long-standing concern to the ILO has been restrictive legislation in Egypt which allows the operation of only a single approved trade union federation and obstructs free organization of workers in trade unions of their choice. Recently in June 2010, the ILO Conference regretted that the Government had made no concrete progress on these fundamental points and called for tangible steps in the very near future to ensure that all workers may form and join organizations of their choosing without any interference from Government.

Nevertheless, the nationwide mobilizations of the last days have led to the establishment of the Egyptian Independent Trade Union Federation. It has called for jobs, a living minimum wage, social protection, and freedom of association.

I welcome this new development in the exercise of the rights of Egyptian working people. Theirs must be foremost among the voices that must now be heard. In this regard, it is of fundamental concern to the ILO that no person should suffer discrimination or reprisals of any type for having practised their fundamental rights. In the tense circumstances now prevailing I particularly call on the Egyptian authorities to ensure that any such acts are prevented and that all necessary protection be offered to those in need of it.

I am certain that all Egyptians will find a way to come together in order to ensure that the youth of their country can have a future of dignity and decent work.  The ILO stands ready to provide all assistance that can be useful to this end.

Geneva, 2 February 2011