Social Dialogue is the Most Effective Mean to Solve Economic and Social Challenges
Prior to the revolution of January 25, Egypt was in a state of increasing political and social distress. Though this spurred ever more frequent economic, social, and political strikes and demonstrations, the state made no serious attempt to address the issue.
There were 5,232 protests in 2013, according to a 2013 report from the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights. The state responded by suppressing them, applying ad hoc financial palliative measures, or issuing hollow demands to end strikes, but it announced no serious steps or definitive, time-bound agreements that would address the roots of the distress.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights is releasing a study titled “Opportunities for Social Dialogue in Egypt” In the study we attempt to shed light on what we believe is one of the principal roots of this distress: the absence of effective, national channels for discussion or negotiation between the state and competing social forces, which would allow them to reach more fundamental solutions that reflect their competing interests, in order to contain the rancor on both sides.
Without effective channels or an attempt to construct participatory rules for decision making to forge understandings and public policies that give voice to competing interests and to reach compromises between the state and these parties, this rancor will remain, though it may abate temporarily.
For this reason, and coinciding with the government’s announcement of the formation of the National Council for Social Dialogue, promulgated with Cabinet Decree 1027/2014, we believe this study is now more necessary than ever, to affirm the need for debate and the conditions for its success.
The study is divided into two parts. In order to ensure a serious social dialogue on the national level, part one looks at lessons learned from various experiences of both stable political systems that experienced economic crises (such as Spain, Ireland, and Italy) and systems that successfully democratized (such as Brazil, Chile, and South Africa). These countries managed to foster a public climate that guaranteed a serious, national social dialogue among competing social forces. As a result, they managed to reach agreements that addressed the fears of all parties and contained existing resentments. As the study notes, these agreements are known as social agreements in the academic literature.
Part two of the study examines the current obstacles to national social dialogue and negotiation in Egypt. It concludes that there are eight basic conditions that must be met by the state and government institutions in order to foster a fruitful social debate that can lead to a genuine consensus—which we believe is necessary—on economic policies and development trajectories through social agreements, especially in the current period.
These conditions include the need to establish and protect the right of freedom of association and the swift issuance of a fair law regulating trade-union freedoms. Joining trade unions must be encouraged, either by protecting the right of association or addressing the structural deficiencies in the Egyptian economy that undermine trade union affiliation, especially as relates to the informal sector and the inability of small and medium enterprises to grow. In addition, stable institutional frameworks for social dialogue must be created, with the state showing awareness of the need for economic and political compromises and concessions to prevent the accumulation of capital from coming at the expense of a commitment to social justice.
Part two also comments on the formation of the National Council for Social Dialogue (created with Decree 1027/2014 on 17 June), discussing its usefulness for fostering a fair, well-rounded social dialogue in Egypt that seeks to reach a social agreement that can contain existing resentment and address the fears of competing social forces.
The study is available here