Egypt Pulse

Will Egypt's public sector get longer weekend?

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Article Summary
The Egyptian government is considering adding Thursdays to the weekend for public sector employees.

The Egyptian government is considering a proposal to reduce the number of working days for public sector employees. A committee was formed to study the proposal, and will be chaired by the head of the Central Agency for Organization and Administration (CAOA), Saleh El Sheikh, and board members representing the Ministry of Planning, Follow-up and Administrative Reform, the Administrative Control Authority and a representative from the parliament’s Legislative Affairs Secretariat.

In an Aug. 15 statement to Al-Youm Al-Sabeh newspaper, Sheikh stressed that the “committee will consider the proposals of all government stakeholders with regard to the decision,” noting that “the committee has addressed all ministers to gauge their opinion on the matter. It also touched on the decision details with the Holding Company for Water and Waste Water and the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company to determine the costs and expenses of running the administrative departments throughout the fiscal year, and to identify the months, days and hours of work in order to assess the situation in case of reduced working hours.”

The proposal sparked controversy among the public sector employees, who were divided into two camps. The first camp welcomed the potential three days off per week (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) instead of two (Friday and Saturday), while the other rejected it for fear of employees being laid off eventually.

Although CAOA is chairing the committee, which is currently looking into the proposal, Sheikh said in a press statement Aug. 5, "CAOA's research department has already carried out a survey internally on flexible working hours and reduced working days. Fifty percent of those surveyed were against this proposal. In addition, initial indicators showed that 67% of surveyed workers in the CAOA directorates across the governorates rejected the proposal.”

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This reflects the fear of a large number of public sector employees that the proposal could indeed be a prelude to lay off staff, especially since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has talked on several occasions about the large number of workers in the state’s administration structure.

Sisi said on Oct. 26, 2016, “Over the past five years Egypt had to bear the annual increases in salaries amounting to 150 billion Egyptian pounds [$8.4 billion] through borrowing. This had in turn increased budget deficit, amounting to 900 billion pounds [$50.3 billion] in six years.”

In the same vein, on May 16, Sisi said, “One million employees were appointed in 2011,” noting that “the public sector was already saturated with 5.5 million employees. This is not to mention that 1 million employees were appointed in one year. The truth is that the state’s administration departments need 1 million staff members only.”

The president did not stop at making statements only, but had gone as far as to ratify the Civil Service Law on Nov. 2, 2016, which includes new procedures to facilitate any decision to dismiss public sector employees. As per the law, an employee with a poor performance record according to the human resources department would be transferred to another government institution. In case HR further reported poor performance, the employee would be dismissed.

The proposal to increase the number of days off for state employees was previously made. On Jan. 4, 2006, the government decided to consider Saturday as an official day off for all the state administration departments, to raise the efficiency of government performance and improve the level of and facilitate services for citizens and public sector employees and their families. Subsequently, the weekend for state administrative institutions was determined to be Fridays and Saturdays.

Sada El Balad website published Aug. 18 a letter from CAOA addressed to the different ministries, demanding that they work on a formula to increase the daily working hours in exchange for an additional day off during the week for employees. The letter also called on the ministries to present proposals to CAOA on ways to make full use of the increased working hours for an additional day off.

Cabinet spokesman Ashraf Sultan told Al-Monitor, “The proposal is still being considered by the committee. It has been suggested to reduce the number of working days and develop new laws for public sector employees, including working shifts.”

He added, “The aim of the proposal was to reduce the number of working days but without decreasing wages, in a bid to rationalize spending, reduce traffic congestion and increase demand on fuel.”

Member of parliament Khaled Shaaban, who is against the proposal, told Al-Monitor, “Should this idea be implemented, public sector employees would take advantage of their days off to find jobs in the private sector, which would be unfair competition to private sector workers.”

He said, “The government justifies this proposal on the basis that it would reduce electricity and fuel consumption. Squeezing working hours into four working days a week would have negative consequences on citizens, who deal directly with the ministries and state administrations.”

Gibali al-Maraghi, parliamentarian and head of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, told Al-Monitor, “This proposal benefits the state in terms of controlling resources. By implementing this proposal the state would only consume electricity and water for four days, which would save it billions of pounds.”

He noted, “There are 6 million state employees. During their vacation traffic would not be as heavy as on regular working days, and therefore there would be less demand on subsidized fuel. The committee is still considering the final version of the proposal to be presented to the parliament."

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Found in: Economy and trade

George Mikhail is a freelance journalist who specializes in minority and political issues. He graduated from Cairo University in 2009 and has worked for a number of Egyptian newspapers.

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