One of strongest interest groups in Ethiopia, the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) works on behalf of workers and workers’ rights in the workplace. Traditionally, the Ethiopia labor proclamation has been known to favor worker against employers. Most say, this is a relic of Ethiopia’s socialist history but the sentiment looks to have persisted well within the rule of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). However, with s strong drive to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Ethiopia the government has drafted an amendment favoring employers, relative to old provision. But, CETU is not willing to stand by and see that happens, writes Dawit Endeshaw.
“I think they will approve the new labor law as it is,” a commuter at an Anbessa City Bus stop told his friend who was seated next to him. They were both traveling from Summit to Megenagna. This seems to be the route they take every week.
They were discussing a particular article in the newly-proposed amendment to the Ethiopian labor law proclamation. The provision talks about possible reasons for termination of a work contract by the employer, unilaterally, without any prior warning. A work contract could be terminated unilaterally by an employer after issuing only one warning letter to an employee provided that the worker is late to his work for two days in a month’s time, or for five days in a six-month period, the draft amendment reads.
“This is insane,” responded his friend. “I mean what have they prepared on the ground by way of improving transportation to come up with such unrealistic provisions,” he asks.
While such conversations and dialogues are ongoing around corridors, the draft labor law proclamation, which some commentators say is oriented to benefit employers, is now finalized and is ready for approval by the council of ministers and the parliament.
Despite such divergence of opinion across the board, the new amendment is expected to be approved by the parliament this year.
The Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) is already calling for adjustment and negotiation regarding a number of provisions included in the amendment. The Confederation officials, during a media briefing last week, disclosed a more aggressive approach to get heard if their calls are not respected.
Last week, the Confederation listed 20 points which, according to them, are amended in a way that is unfair to the worker. If the bill goes directly to approval, without considering these points, the Confederation sees that it will infringe rights granted to workers and disrupt industry stability.
The long-standing president of the Confederation, Kassahun Follo, told journalists last week that the Confederation has already informed all the ministerial offices about their apprehension towards the bill.
However, the Confederation’s own 20-point amendment was rejected by the council of ministers and Minister of Labor and Social Affairs (MoLSA), according to Kassahun.
Among the points identified, the probation period before workers become permanent employees and the prerequisite reason for termination of employment contracts are the two major points of departure for the confederation.
The Confederation has also expressed its disagreement over the shortening of probation period to 90 days. According to the current labor law, probation period stands at 45 days.
Moreover, CETU is also challenging the 90-day notice period when a worker wants to terminate his/her work contract. The Confederation argues that the current 30-day notice period is adequate.
The Confederation, which has eight federations and 1,554 unions under its umbrella, lobbies on behalf of millions of workers under it.
The new bill came 14 years after the introduction of the current one. As far as the old labor law is concerned, its foundation is rooted in the introduction of the Ethiopian Civil Code in 1960.
The Code introduced provisions such as contract of employment, safety precautions, occupational hazards, occupational accidents, termination of employment contract and compensation to be paid in the event of dismissal without good cause.
In 1962, the Imperial regime introduced the first Labor Relation Decree. Among other things, the Decree introduced things like conflict-resolving mechanism and procedures for the registration and legislation of employers’ associations and labor unions. One year after the decree was changed into Labor Relations Proclamations.
In 1975, the Derg regime, come up with the Proclamation No. 64/1975 which repealed Labor Proclamation No. 210/1963.
The regime introduced the new proclamation in line with the socialist ideology.
As time went by, in 1990s, the incumbent government of the EPRDF has also repealed the Derg era labor proclamation and come up with its own version in 1993.
At the same time, in 1993, Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) was formed under a tense political confrontation with the government which finally led to its founding president, Dawi Ibrahim, to go into exile.
The chronicle of the Confederation dates back to the establishment of the first worker association in 1945. They were the employees of the then Franco-Ethiopian Railway who established the first Workers Union in Ethiopia. Later on, unions such as the Addis Ababa Fiber Mills, Indo-Ethiopian Textiles, Wonji Sugar Plantation, Ethiopian Airlines and General Ethiopian Transport a.k.a. Anbessa Bus Company Worker Unions were formed.
After 20 years, those workers’ associations came under one national trade union. A year after the 1960s Labor Relation Decree, which gave formal recognition to trade unions, the Confederation of Ethiopian Labor Unions was established.
However, most the national unions remained largely symbolic until the dying days of the Emperor’s regime when they started to play meaningful role in Ethiopian politics.
The very instrumental role played by unions in influencing the imperial regime and eventually the toppling it is well documented. It was also behind a general strike which paralyzed the regime. Nevertheless, the union used those turbulent times to garner significant support and increase its membership.
It was during the Derg era that the Confederation has started to bring on board the masses and eventually become very strong. In fact, the Union was able to bring under its umbrella 167 associations with estimated 80,000 worker members.
This figure, however, represented only 30 percent of the workers eligible to join a labor union at that time. Soon after that, the confederation changed its name to All Ethiopian Trade Union (AETU).
The National Union was reestablished after the coming to power of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in the early 1990s. The Confederation has now found itself in a very critical period where clash with a new bill which seems to have inclination towards employers, according to Confederation officials.
For instance, the articles referring to the termination of contracts without issuing a warning letter is said to be not considerate to the reality on the ground such as transport access and traffic jams, according to Confederation officials.
Let alone workers who use public transport, it is difficult to imagine those with automobiles or public officials with vehicles not to be late at least two days in a month, the officials argue.
The Employers Federation, on the other hand, seems to be satisfied with the new bill.
This bill is at least a better one in comparison to similar labor proclamation during both Dere and Imperial eras, Tadelle Yimer, president of Employers Federation told The Reporter. He has been the president of the Federation for the past 14 years.
For us the amendment of the current labor law was about “give and take”, he said. There are provisions which we still do not agree on.
He said his federation was lobbying for the inclusion of articles which give employers a power to terminate work contract of their workers without any sound reason.
If employer wants to fire his worker because he wants to, this right has to be granted, he argued.
A worker has a right to terminate his contract at any time; by the same token, this right is supposed to be given to the employer.
Currently, the Federation has around 30,000 direct and indirect members. It is established with a prior objective of serving the employer’s right.
This new bill came in a time where a number of stories regarding violation of workers right are hitting headlines.
The Confederation is now scrutinizing repeated labor abuses, workplace accidents and failure to protect the right of workers to organize.
Moreover, study indicates that it is only less than ten percent of the eligible worker who are organized under labor unions. It is not more than half million workers which are said to be members of the confederation.
“We know there are gaps in the employer’s side when it comes to allowing their workers to organize trade unions because there is a mentality of associating unions with the old eras,” Tadelle said.
In the meantime, as the new bill is awaiting the legislative and executive council’s blessing, the Confederation warns that it might call for a national labor strike and protest if its demands and terms are not respected.