Impact of Unions on Private Colleges in Egypt

By:  Mona O. Abdel Hafiz and Dr. Mohamed Ramadan 
Ibrachy & Dermarkar Law Firm
Giza, Egypt

The following explores the issue of unions for private universities in Egypt. Public universities are governed by Public Law, and therefore not addressed.

  1. Labor Strikes

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights guarantees the right to strike and the International Labor Organization conventions also protects this right. The Egyptian Labor Law No. 12 of year 2003 recognizes the employees right to strike that allows employees to stop work voluntarily and collectively in order to pressure employers to accede their demands, however, there are vital issues that should be taken into consideration such as the fact that labor union’s representatives should have labor negotiation skills in addition to the need of counseling to employees.

On one side, labor strikes are a healthy sign of a free economy. To severally limit the right to strike would also mean introducing other restrictions to protect employees. The psychological effects of a strike should also not be ignored. It is often a way for employees to get rid of the resentment built up over a period of time. It helps to build working relationships and to achieve more realism and moderation in both demand and supply of labor.

On the other side, Labor Strikes have a negative impact on the profits of the entities. Employees tend to view strikes in entities as an investment- a giving up on current resources in the hope of gaining larger returns in the future. While strikes make front-page news, peaceful settlements are less frequently covered in the media.

Therefore, two precautionary measures that employers should adopt to prevent or have a lower chance of labor strikes.

a)       Labor Negotiation Skills:

Labor and collective bargaining lack basic negotiating skills. The basic tact and art of negotiation is getting eroded within organizations.

Deadlocks and failures to come to a negotiated agreement hurt all sides involved and the end result is that neither party wins – both sides lose. We must focus on the common interests in any labor situation that should take into account the particular needs of labor unions and corporate interests and puts them at the forefront of all discussions. Meeting the needs of labor negotiations should involve the following:

  • Understand the concerns of each side during labor negotiations.
  • Place greater emphasis on planning and strategy.
  • Plan for negotiations with employees before disagreements lead to strikes and walkouts.
  • Handle negotiations in person.
  • Minimize possible conflict via principled negotiation strategies.
  • Strengthen internal cooperation during negotiations.
  • Establish rapport and build chemistry.
  • Focus on interests and issues that lead to common agreement.
  • Apply questioning skills to determine situations, priorities and demands.
  • Adjust a negotiations approach based on verbal cues and behavior.
  • Identify areas of concern and recommend appropriate solutions
  • Recognize and disarm dishonest negotiation tactics.
  • Handle negotiations in an ethical manner that strengthens relationships.
  • Protect constituent interests during labor negotiations.

… by providing counsel, training and assistance prior to or within the framework of the strike.

b)       Group Psychology:

1)      Psychological factors leading up to strikes

Social, political and economic factors can help to explain the actions of the employees in an entity that would lead to a strike. The roots of group violence, like individual violence, can often be found in historical relationships which provide a reservoir for hostility. There are a number of violence-promoting factors that can be identified in strikes such as “Deprivation, Frustration and Aggression”.

Frustration is a basic prerequisite for anger. It is associated with, but not always linked to, the expression of aggression and violence. Under certain circumstances frustration may lead to aggression. Leonard Berkowitz, is an American social psychologist best known for his research on human aggression defines deprivation and frustration in the following manner:

“I would say a person is deprived if he lacks a goal object people generally regard as attractive and desirable, but is frustrated only when he had been anticipating the pleasure to be gotten from this object and then cannot fulfill this expectation”  

2)      Group Counseling/Psychological Services

There are socio-cultural challenges for psychologists in Egypt. There are also common myths and misconceptions about the public image of psychology, including, but not limited to the following:

  • A belief that mental illness is a sign of weakness in the faith;
  • A belief that people in need of psychiatric care should be locked away in special institutions, as mentally-ill people are often considered to be dangerous to society;
  • A belief that people with mental disorders must work low-level jobs, because they are not competent for important or responsible jobs; and,
  • A belief that mental disease is mainly due to demon whispers or demon possession, so they need a spiritual kind of treatment and not medical treatment, e.g., in the case of epilepsy.

In general, the mission of introducing the Counseling and Psychological Services in the Egyptian Law is to support and promote the emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual health and wellness of the employees. The psychology of employee motivation at the workplace is extremely important, such as:

  • Physiological needs: Physiological needs are usually associated with money. People use money to satisfy basic motivations. If employees don’t earn enough money to comfortably meet basic financial needs such as rent, healthcare, etc., it is difficult to focus on creating value in the workplace.
  • Safety Needs: Not in the sense of an assurance of a lifetime employment, since in today’s economy, there are no guarantees. However, an employer can meet employees’ needs on this level by keeping them informed of the company’s financial position and keeping them in the loop on the company matters that affect them.
  • Social Needs: If the satisfaction of social needs is hindered, employees may become apathetic, uncooperative, and even aggressive towards their managers. Learning to provide opportunities for socialization through staff meetings, employee luncheons and even venting with one another between calls would help understand the social needs of the employees and how to satisfy such needs.
  • Esteem or Ego Needs: Esteem needs relate to individuals’ achieving the confidence and respect they desire in themselves and want to be recognized by others. These needs include the desire for recognition, promotion, achievement and accomplishment. Failure to meet these needs can result in apathetic behavior and substandard work.

Tips of what psychologists should do with the employees of an entity;

  • Supervisory training on site.
  • A weekly meeting with the employees.