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news,Int’l trade union laments labor exploitation
From left: Abdulfetah talking with Kassahun during the launch of the minimum wage forum

Int’l trade union laments labor exploitation

  • Campaigns for minimum wage in Africa

The International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC) joining African trade unions campaigning for a minimum wage Wednesday called on Ethiopian authorities to rein in exploitative wages in the country.

Launching a minimum-wage forum in Addis Ababa, ITUC Secretary-General Sharan Burrow expressed alarm at the low wage rate in the nascent manufacturing sector of Ethiopia, and raised as a case in point the plight of “Yeshi”, a mother of three and a clothing factory machine operator who gets paid only 600 birr (equivalent to USD 20) per month -- nowhere near the “minimum livable wage”.

Burrow questioned the talk of Ethiopia becoming the next hub of textile manufacturing while Yeshi and her colleagues are feeling the burn to survive with “exploitative wages”. Burrow noted that the likes of “Yeshi” should be paid "minimum livable wages," that, according to Burrow, is essential for the foundation of any country.

Talking about low wages many factory workers are getting paid in Ethiopia, the secretary general said that it is time to end “exploitation” not only in Ethiopia but the whole of Africa.

"[It is] time to end the exploitation in Africa. There was no dignity for workers in Africa. [There is] no value for labor, and wages don't reflect real values. Wages don't reflect collective bargain," Burrow said.

At a meeting Wednesday with Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, Burrow highlighted the importance of establishing a minimum wage floor in Ethiopia with a view to addressing the increasing income inequalities here.

“We spoke to him [the PM] about foreign investment jobs that should be based on a set of fundamental rights and protections for workers and working families of Ethiopia,” Burrow said.

Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, secretary general of ITUC-Africa, on his part, said that workers being paid fair benefits would raise the purchasing power of people, thereby creating effective demand. According to Adu-Amankwah, if workers do not have enough money to purchase goods and services, the whole idea of manufacturing and industrialization would go nowhere.

Launching a minimum wage floor campaign last year, ITUC-Africa has selected Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal and Zambia to lead the minimum-wage campaign in the continent. Adu-Amankwah told The Reporter that these countries have been selected because they have some active trade unions working for the working people they represent.

Ethiopian Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Abdulfetah Abdulahi, however, alarmed unionists that they should carefully go about the minimum wage floor campaign. He said they should consider striking a balance between job creation efforts and pay-rise calls, and cautioned that well-thought out approaches should be devised.

Seizing on the momentum, Kassahun Follo, president of the Ethiopian Trade Unions Confederation, said that efforts are underway to introduce a minimum wage floor as stipulated under the labor policy of Ethiopia. The confederation is also expanding the reach to newly built industrial parks in the country.

So far, only factory workers at the Bole-Lemi Industrial Park have established a trade union. The South Korean Shints ETP Garment Plc, which employs some 4,000 workers at its facilities at Bole-Lemmi, has given the nod to its workers establishing a trade union, Kassahun said. According to Kassahun, similar moves are in the making at the industrial park in Hawassa and elsewhere.

It is to be recalled that Ethiopian authorities and trade unions have bashed each other following government plans to introduce a new law that the latter claim to be detrimental to their memberships’ freedom as well as safe working environments. The confederation got vexed by the matter, and threatened to call a general strike in the country.

Organized by the ITUC, ITUC Africa, and the Ethiopian Trade Unions Confederation, the two-day forum brought together eight countries, including Ethiopia, to spearhead efforts aimed at setting up a minimum wage floor in Africa. ITUC has launched a campaign dubbed "100% value, dignity wages in Africa". It is a campaign that seeks to challenge corporate greed in the continent.