A meeting on Organizing the international supply chain” in the textile and garment sector has kick-started much-needed debate on wages and been met with approval from unions.
With support from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, key players at the discussions in Addis Ababa on 22 May, including the ILO, reminded the government of Ethiopia of its obligations to fully implement Convention 87 on freedom of association and the right to organize. Further, the country should also implement a decent work agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. Social dialogue will also stop union-bashing tactics by some employers that include terminating, transferring or demoting union leaders to weaken the union.
The 55,000 strong IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Industrial Federation of Textile, Leather and Garment Workers Union (IFTLGWU), 56 per cent of whose members are women, says workers should be paid decent wages to live better lives and be able to look after their families.
The Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU), to which IFTLGWU is affiliated, supports the proposal and calls for minimum wages that meet workers’ needs. Government officials, the Ethiopian Investment Corporation, global brands and the Ayka Addis textile company, who were present at the meeting, discussed how decent wages benefitted workers. The government emphasized the importance of social dialogue that included trade unions, employers and government.
With the list of global brands from North America, Europe, China and Asia sourcing from Ethiopia increasing, and 20 brands including Peter Van Heusen, Quadrant Apparel, Epic Apparel and Ontex Hygiene Disposables already sourcing from Hawassa Industrial Park, calls are being made for wages to be pegged using international benchmarks. When fully operational, the park will house factories employing 60,000 workers. However, unions are questioning why they are being denied access to recruit members at Hawassa.
Says Masho Beriku, from CETU’s external and public relations department: “We are fighting for living wages and for Ethiopian workers’ rights. Therefore, we want restrictions stopping unions from organizing to be removed. This will enable us to grow the CETU membership from the current 550,000 to our target of two million. We also would like labour law reforms to protect workers’ rights.”
Ethiopia’s Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Hirut Woldemariam, says in a statement: “We are living in a society and an economy that is driven by globalization. The textile and garment sector is a notable globalized business with high female proportion in its labour force. With the establishment of industrial parks, our country has positioned itself in supply chains in the garments sector”.
The meeting was attended by affiliates from Bangladesh and South Africa who shared experiences on campaigning for better wages and collective bargaining.