Ethiopia is currently taking the leading position in the list of countries that are attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Among the factors contributing to its success in attracting FDI are its natural resource, strategic location, political stability and most importantly its vast and cheap labor force.
Specifically Ethiopia’s work force is known to be a vital input for migrant industries like textile and garment. Despite the promising trend in the utilization of this resource, the issue of benefits and safety seems to be lacking due attention.
According to Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) many employees suffer violation of rights such as the restriction of right to organization, the absence of minimum wage floor, the problem of equal payment for equal work and work place safety, among others.
Among these problems, the restriction of the right to organization and the absence of minimum wage floor can be taken as the major and basic ones because they can contribute highly for the fulfillment of other rights.
Especially the restriction of right to form trade unions hinders workers from raising questions related to other rights. Employers in private entities perceive trade unions as potential threats as they would enable their employees to file their cases collectively and consistently.
However, in his exclusive interview with The Ethiopian Herald, CETU Communication Bureau Director Measho Berihu said, “On the first place while the right to organization is constitutionally guaranteed in Ethiopia, the declaration of workers and employers divides this right and allow only private and public enterprise workers to get organized.”
As of him whereas this is against the constitution on the one hand, on the other hand for allowed private sector workers also there is a challenge from employers in letting workers to be organized. He said that especially in industrial parks and factories which now aggressively emerging, employers use different tactics to prevent them. These tactics includes using different inducements to disunite workers, delaying the process, using intimidation and up to suspending the organizing committees and leaders.
According to Measho, this is not because the organization of workers is threat for employers but it is because of lack of awareness. “They perceive it as against their interest and they assume if workers organized they question only their rights.
“However, this is completely miss perception,” Measho stressed. He noted that when workers get organized even though it is true that they will stand for their rights, one should know that first they will check also their obligation since that was part of their contract. There will be collective bargain.
Beyond this he mentioned some of benefits for employers if workers get organized. First, it will simplify the communication and create dialogue between workers and managers. It is also better for employers to talk with the representatives of workers than talking with the entire employees at a time.
While minimizing the administrative burden organizing workers on the other hand will increase productivity. This is what is commonly observed in the experiences of organized workers companies.
The other challenge is the reluctance of concerned government offices that have obligation to ensure workers right to organization. Beyond this Measho noted that the right to organization for Ethiopian is constitutionally guaranteed right and also part of ILO conventions 98 and 97 ratified by the country.
Moreover, Measho underscored that unless we create conducive environment for workers in industry zones, it is impossible to think of a stable industrialized economy in the future. Workers feel loyalty and belongingness to the job and demonstrate their heartfelt commitment when they are allowed to organize.
According to CETU, another major challenge workers are facing is the absence of national minimum wage floor. This particularly affects all workers in the country whether they are organized or not. Measho illustrated that currently workers, especially industrial employees have no choice without accepting and working with the owners or employers will. They will pay as they want. “They may refer other employers payment level and they will decide by themselves,” he emphasized.
As of him right now, the average monthly salary of factory workers is about 700 Birr. Since many employees hail from far areas they have to pay house rents. But their salary cannot cover even their food expense; as a result, they have to rent houses in groups so as to share the expenditures for survival.
In a country that is dreaming to become middle-income economy in near future, the issue of ensuring fair and equitable distribution of resources for all citizens needs to be a top agenda. Especially the private sector workers need more concern in this regard. Foreign investors should also respect the globally applied rules and be part of the solution than the problem.
Measho also strongly called up on concerned government bodies, to give proper attention to this serious problem and strive to timely finalize and enact the proclamation that is currently under study.
BY YOSEF KETEMA