Friday, June 14, 2024
SocietyAnticipating a Fairer Future: the enduring sweat to ensure Ethiopia’s labor rights

Anticipating a Fairer Future: the enduring sweat to ensure Ethiopia’s labor rights

Safety remains a concern beneath Ethiopia’s construction sector

In Ethiopia’s bustling construction industry, the pursuit of progress often comes at the expense of worker safety. With a glaring lack of adherence to safety protocols and a dearth of protective measures, the livelihoods of countless laborers hang in the balance. From the absence of safety gear to the inadequate awareness of insurance coverage, the urgent need for improved safety standards is paramount to protect the lives and well-being of its workforce.

Kende Getnet, a daily laborer forced to take a break from work due to a hand injury sustained this week, reflects on the critical importance of safety precautions in the workplace. He shared his harrowing experience, revealing, they have never worn a safety gear “since we began work. We didn’t even bother asking the Contractor for it.”

He believes this disregard for safety measures ultimately led to his injury, raising concerns about the lack of preventative measures that could have averted this tragedy.

During a visit to a construction site in Megnagna, it quickly becomes evident that safety protocols are woefully absent. Although some follow safety precautions, most in the industry resort to substandard safety measures due to cost becoming a major hurdle. Workers often labor without proper safety attire, including footwear, helmets, and gloves, despite operating at considerable heights or working with heavy machinery.

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Yohanes Abera, a coworker of Kende, echoed similar concerns, shedding light on the lack of awareness about safety protocols and insurance coverage within their line of work.

Both Kende and Yohanes demonstrated a nonchalant attitude towards potential risks, with Kende remarking, “If we get injured, we take a break and then get back to work.” This mindset highlights a common misconception among laborers who fail to fully grasp the severe consequences of disregarding safety measures.

The absence of safety awareness and proper protective gear not only endangers workers like Kende and Yohanes but also raises serious concerns about their financial security in the event of emergencies. Kende mentioned their reliance on the contractor for monetary compensation in case of serious injuries underscores a lack of understanding regarding their rights and entitlements as workers.

Ethiopia’s high number of daily laborers is driven by factors such as the informal economy, limited job opportunities, and challenging economic conditions. These contribute to the reliance on daily employment for many individuals seeking income.

In 2019, according to data from the International Labor Organization (ILO), there were approximately 2.5 million wage and salary workers in Ethiopia’s industrial sector. This includes employees in diverse industries such as manufacturing, construction, mining, and agriculture.

Workers in Ethiopia’s construction and industrial sectors face numerous occupational health and safety challenges, stemming from inadequate training, a lack of proper safety equipment, poor working conditions, and limited enforcement of safety regulations, according to the ILO. Workers in these industries are often exposed to various risks and dangers, including heavy machinery, heights, hazardous materials, and high-pressure equipment.

Internationally, Sweden stands out as one of the safest countries for construction workers, thanks to its stringent safety regulations, comprehensive training programs, and unwavering commitment to workplace safety culture. Stringent regulations, proactive enforcement measures, comprehensive training initiatives, strong safety culture, and robust representation of workers, means safety is prioritized. With the Work Environment Act and oversight by the Swedish Work Environment Authority, Sweden has earned its global reputation as a leader in protecting construction workers.

Almaz Hayle, a construction worker, also voiced concerns regarding safety and wage issues within the construction industry. Almaz says safety must be the top priority, shedding light on the lack of awareness among workers and contractors regarding safety protocols. “I have witnessed numerous accidents during her seven years in the industry, many of which were attributed to a lack of safety measures.”

Almaz urged employees to prioritize their safety and take necessary precautions to prevent accidents and safeguard their lives.

“In this day and age, a significant number of workers remain unaware of their entitlement to insurance coverage, particularly in the construction sector,” said Duresa Samuna, branch manager at Zemen Insurance. He emphasized that it is a legal obligation for companies to provide insurance for individual workers.

Some contractors deceive workers by either offering inadequate compensation in case of injury or fatality or by insuring only a small fraction of their workforce, leaving numerous vulnerable employees without proper coverage, Duresa says.

Workers’ Compensation Insurance provides essential financial protection for employees while they are at their workplace, during work hours, and for work-related activities. It covers accidents, injuries, or illnesses that may occur during work. Workers receive benefits such as lump sum payments for permanent disability or fatalities, weekly payments for temporary disabilities, and coverage for medical expenses and rehabilitation.

Disputes can also be resolved through mediation services offered by the Labor and Social Affairs offices.

Kassahun Folo, president of the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) emphasized that it is the duty of the Ministry of Labor and Skills, specifically the Work Condition Monitor, to address and utilize enforcement measures on companies regarding labor issues.

“The Ministry of Labor and Skills is empowered to enforce decisions, utilizing the Labor Safety Proclamation, to ensure compliance within companies,” he said. “Employees must have the ability to form associations to access their data and establish communication channels.”

Kassahun says it is imperative for both construction officials and the Ministry of Labor and Skills to collaborate effectively to oversee and ensure the safety of the working environment within companies.

Today, the pressing concerns plaguing workers revolve around the crucial topics of raising the minimum wage and addressing tax-related challenges. The absence of minimum wage in Ethiopia and high income tax on lower income structures, remains an agenda for workers’ rights advocates like theCETU. Within the walls of the enchanting Oromo Cultural Center in the heart of Addis Ababa, a pivotal meeting took place, organized by the CETU.

Workers from different institutions gathered, their voices echoing with a shared sentiment—a longing for a standardized tax system that encompasses all laborers and an urgent call for an equitable minimum wage.

During the gathering, workers urged the Prime Minister to prioritize their cause and engage in meaningful dialogue. While recognizing the Prime Minister’s efforts in engaging various sectors of society, the workers expressed their disappointment at not yet having had the opportunity to engage in direct discussions. Participants implored the Prime Minister to initiate the long-overdue conversations with them, acknowledging that their voices and concerns deserve equal attention and consideration.

Ayalew Ahmed, Deputy of the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU), says every company has a legal obligation to contribute to insurance in the event of accidents or similar incidents. The Private Enterprise Employees Union provides a guarantee for compensating permanently injured employees or securing their retirement in case of an accident.

“However, some companies and contractors conceal accidents, making it difficult to ascertain the exact number. While we cannot entirely eliminate accidents, we can certainly reduce them by implementing and enforcing stringent safety protocols,” Ayalew said.

Duresa recommended the implementation of compelling factors for contractors and owners to obtain insurance, similar to the requirement for vehicle insurance. Currently, the lack of enforcement hinders compliance with insurance regulations. He stressed the need for a stronger regulatory body to ensure compliance and highlighted the importance of imposing consequences on those who fail to adhere to the law.

“By implementing stricter enforcement measures, such as penalties or fines, contractors and owners would be incentivized to prioritize insurance coverage, ultimately enhancing overall risk management practices within the industry,” he said.

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