Merhaw Birhane, Gelane Senbetu, Fasika Bekele and Tegist Denget at the meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
A meeting of the IndustriALL union building project held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 16 November, with paticipation from FNV Mondiaal, Solidaridad, and the ILO, agreed to continue supporting the fight for workers’ rights by women in the garment and textile sector. Collective bargaining agreements and promoting health and safety at factories were the other key areas discussed.
The women are organized by IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Industrial Federation of Ethiopian Textile, Leather and Garment Trade Unions (IFETLGTU).
A training of trainers on women workers’ rights attended by 13 women held earlier this year was one of the activities aimed at increasing the capacity of the women workers. Four of the women who received the training said the issues discussed included maternity protection, organizing against gender discrimination and sexual harassment, recognition of family responsibilities by employers, and equal pay for work of equal value.
On maternity protection, conditions were so bad that some workers did not return to work after maternity leave as they had no one to look after their young infant. Hence, the demand for companies to provide child care facilities.
The training also boosted their confidence as they no longer feared approaching company management. Prepared for active participation in union activities including leadership roles, they looked forward to training colleagues at factories in Addis Ababa, Bishoftu and other places.
Like other Sub Saharan African countries, most workers in the garment and textile sector were women. At around US $40 per month, the wages they earned were too low to lift them out of poverty, and below what they needed for basics. This has prompted the IFETLGWU to put minimum wages on the agenda for future negotiations with employers. The union also saw collective bargaining agreements that ensured fair wages as important in reversing the subsistence wages.
The Global Framework Agreements that IndustriALL has signed with global brands including H & M and Tchibo, who have factories in Ethiopia, were useful tools in protecting workers against poverty wages.
Further, ensuring that employers complied with health and safety standards and labour laws would also reduce accidents and improve the working conditions.
Paule-France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional Officer for Sub Saharan Africa said:
“We are committed to improving gender equality, and to ensure that union leadership reflected the membership. Women workers represent their factory issues better when given the opportunity to speak for themselves.”