The wave of strikes grappling brand name companies and institutions within Ethiopia, including TECNO and the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) most recently, has hit Awash Winery SC, the nation’s oldest winemaker in the midst of the holiday season. This has propelled the company to close its manufacturing units in Tor Hailoch and Mekanisa as of August 30, 2018.
“As it is obvious to everyone, the company can execute its activities effectively only when there is a peaceful working environment and the safety of the entire employees and the management team is guaranteed,” the company announced as it temporarily terminated its operations. “Due to the intimidation and harassment from a group of employees in the company that took place again last August 29, 2018 the management team cannot execute their tasks appropriately and effectively,” the company stated.
Several employees, who sat ideally by the entrance of the Tor Hailoch plant of the company, told The Reporter that the low pay they receive despite many years of services rendered and the alleged stubborn leadership of one of its manager, who they felt run the company at his own disposal, contributed to the current predicament. “He retained our services locally, when we challenged him, he would assign us to the most rural part of the country, as punishment,” one cried.
“Despite decades of service, our pay does not reflect our years of service, there is little to show and we live in poverty,” another said. “We just want a living wage. That is all.”
However, the company sees the whole situation drastically different than its employees.
In a statement sent to The Reporter, it said, “A new Labor Union representative board was appointed in March 2018 and opted for a more challenging approach to the industrial relations which includes the request to cancel the prevailing Collective Bargaining Agreement. This process has, however, trigged a climate of distrust, harassment and finger pointing in which some group of employees felt entitled to obtain what they expect beyond the usual legal negotiation process and methods.”
“Despite what is claimed by the company, there has been no motivation to attack anyone, let alone physically or verbally hurt anyone,” another employee told The Reporter. “They are just making claims to help their cause, not come to a speedy conclusion to our issues.”
The company explained how the first strike, which it described it as “illegal”, occurred on July 6, 2018 at the Tor Hailoch plant and that most of the executives reported being physically threatened, including the controversial manager pushing the company to take some precautious measures.
The last straw seemed to be a protest which happened on August 28, 2018 calling for pay increase, a better working condition and the immediate removal of the manager.
As such, with the endorsement of the company’s owners, including Sir Bob Geldof’s 8 Miles PLC, the operations of the company was suspended. However, the company’s vineyard in Merti Jeju, Arsi Zone, Oromia Regional State is not affected but the two wineries remain non-operational.
The negotiation, between the executives of the company, its labor union and representative of the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) remains ongoing.
“Measures have also be (sic) taken to ensure the company’s valued customers and consumers that wines will be available during the New Year celebration,” the company said in its statement sent to The Reporter.